Council delays final vote on Lady's Island airport plan

cconley@islandpacket.comNovember 5, 2012 

Beth Lewis of the Beaufort County Solid Waste and Recycling Department, and Re-Run, its recycling mascot, look on as County Council chairman Weston Newton proclaimed Nov. 15, 2012, as America Recycles Day.

CASEY CONLEY, THE ISLAND PACKET

  • Beaufort County Council chairman Weston Newton told fellow council members Monday he has been fined $100 by the S.C. Ethics Commission for filing his October 2011 campaign disclosure form late. Newton, who was not running for re-election last year, did not have any expenses or fundraising to report on the form, which must be submitted quarterly. Newton, who is running unopposed for S.C. House in District 120, said the deadline "came and was missed" during a period when he was moving his law office.

A final vote to endorse the Beaufort County Airport master plan was delayed Monday over concerns about extending the runway on Lady's Island by 966 feet.

County Council instead sought alternatives to the extension and called for a special meeting with CDM Smith, the consulting firm that released the plan in August 2011.

"I am not going to vote for any plan that shows this thing going out into the marsh. I don't think it makes sense, and quite honestly, I think it defies logic given everything else we stand for," said council chairman Weston Newton.

The plan has been vetted and approved by several boards, including Beaufort City Council. It calls for nearly $25 million in upgrades and safety improvements to the airport, which doesn't meet all Federal Aviation Administration guidelines.

The plan to extend the runway to 4,400 feet is the most controversial piece. The current runway is too short for the largest plane that uses the facility, a Beech King Air twin engine, requiring pilots to carry fewer passengers or carry less gas or cargo.

Numerous Dataw Island residents oppose the runway extension on many counts, including fears that it will lead to noise and light pollution, reduce property values and hurt the environment.

"The airport is not in an ideal location ... (and) was probably never intended to be an airport capable of serving large planes and eventually jets," said John Cashen of the Dataw Island Owners Association.

He and many others favor a new location for the airport, which is off U.S. 21 and bordered by marsh on three sides.

Councilman Steve Baer said extending the runway to 4,400 feet makes little sense because that distance is still too short for small private and business jets.

Supporters insist the plan is just a framework and doesn't require the county to do anything. Moreover, it could allow access to millions in federal funds to support the upgrades, council vice chairman Paul Sommerville said.

Graham Kerr, a former commercial pilot, said the county must first decide the airport's purpose. If it's nothing more than a landing strip for wealthy people, he said, it should be closed.

"Or is it a piece of economic infrastructure that brings money and business and wealth to the county? If it is, you need to support it," said Kerr, who also sits on the Beaufort County Airports Board.

No date has been set for the public meeting with the consulting group. Any substantial changes to the master plan could cost the county another $45,000, Sommerville said.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

Related content:

Officials: Lady's Island airport expansion needed to meet current, future demands, Jan. 19, 2012

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