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Wed, Jul 11, 2007

New MYR Terminal Not Going To Happen Any Time Soon

FAA Considers Asking For Its Grant Money Back

It appears the new terminal project at Myrtle Beach International Airport can be pretty much termed a failure. The Federal Aviation Administration revoked Horry County's authority to collect $111 million in passenger fees that was to pay for a new terminal over the course of 20 years.

The county was set to begin a passenger fee collection this summer but dropped the idea when the terminal project was nixed in April.

As ANN reported, the FAA granted about $16 million to Horry County, SC for expansion of the MYR terminal. But, the Community Appearance Board rejected the new $229 million terminal after four months of intense workshops... that focused mainly on the building's physical appearance.

Board members said a new terminal, planned for the west side of the runway, would have been too close to a residential development on the former Air Force Base next to the airport.

The FAA is interested in just how much of its grant money Horry County spent on terminal plans and may ask that some or all of the money be repaid, said Scott Seritt, manager of the FAA's Atlanta Airports Division.

"We have expended millions of dollars on planning, environmental and design," Seritt wrote to Horry County Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland in April. "While we believe that everyone has acted in good faith and have been blindsided by an unexpected turn of events, we will need to reconcile the expenditure of the federal funds."

Any repayments might hinge on the timeline of the board review, which began when the board first rejected the project in December and continued through the final board vote, Seritt said.

"At what point did we suspect this project was going to be voted down by the Community Appearance Board, was that $1 million ago or was it $5 million ago?" he said. "In a reasonable, prudent process, would we have stopped three months ago?"

Councilman Harold Worley said the FAA should not be asking for the money back.

"We were partners," he said. "How could they agree and then come and say, 'We want our money back.'"

Horry County could end up owing up to $16 million that's been paid out over eight years of work on the terminal, according to the FAA. A review of the overall financial situation will likely occur in the next month, according to Seritt. The FAA has not made any allegations of misuse of federal funds.

"We have been giving them a little bit of time to wrap up their final cost," he said.

As hopes and plans for a new terminal fade, another effort to expand MYR is forming.

An ad hoc committee of county lawmakers, city officials and businessmen are to meet sometime next week to continue discussions of expanding the current eight-gate terminal, according to The Sun News, although finding funding might be a problem.

"That's where it makes sense, and you are going to save an awful lot of money," said Myrtle Beach Mayor and committee member John Rhodes.

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.myrtlebeachairport.com

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