The design work and permitting needed to extend the Hilton Head Island Airport runway to 5,000 feet is about to begin, according to the airport's director.
The last hurdle should be cleared in a few days, when the Federal Aviation Administration completes its review of an environmental study completed earlier this year by consultant Talbert, Bright & Ellington Inc.
Beaufort County airports director Jon Rembold said indications are that the FAA will sign off on the study, "so we're looking forward to getting into the design phase."
The study showed that extending the runway 700 feet, from its current length of 4,300 feet, would have no significant effect on air quality, wildlife or noise near the airport. However, many of the 125 nearby residents who discussed the study with the consultants in April remained skeptical.
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The FAA requires airports to complete such studies, including public forums to discuss their results, before construction can begin.
The study's final approval would clear the way to develop full engineering specifications for the extension, secure permits and hire a construction company, Rembold said. That process would take 12 to 14 months, he said.
Barring delays, construction could begin in December 2015, according to project plans.
The runway extension's design is one of seven improvement projects Talbert, Bright & Ellington is managing for the airport. The projects will cost about $1.55 million in all, but almost 95 percent of the cost will be paid for with FAA and state grants. The county will pay about $87,000, according to county documents.
The other projects include tree clearing, redesigning and lengthening taxiways, and the purchase of seven properties that must be razed to ensure clear flight paths, Rembold said.
Appraisals and initial purchase offers went out to owners at 21 Dillon Road and 12, 14 and 16 Hunter Road earlier this year, Rembold said. The county will negotiate those purchases this summer and fall, Rembold and county attorney Josh Gruber said.
Appraisals for three properties at the north end of the airport on Beach City Road should begin this summer, Rembold added.
Gruber and Rembold would not discuss details of the offers, which will include help with some moving costs for the businesses, Rembold said. The county and consultants are working with Town of Hilton Head Island planning staff and town manager Steve Riley to find similar offices that have compatible zoning where the businesses might relocate. Attempts Thursday to reach Riley were unsuccessful.
"The mandate is, you can't leave an owner with any less than they had before, so we're trying to make sure they get the assistance they need," Rembold said.
Negotiations are off to a rough start, however, according to Randy Downing, who runs a general contracting business at Airport Office Park, 21 Dillon Road.
The county's initial offer to Downing and the other businesses that own space in the building, which include La Isla Magazine & Language School, were about 40 percent of each office's assessed tax value, Downing said. For example, Downing paid $307,000 when he bought two suites at the Airport Office Park in 2013, but was offered only $188,000, he said.
Together, the owners have sent a counter-offer to the county but have not received a response, Downing said. He declined to discuss the specifics of the counter-offer.
"We're willing to play ball, but they've got to play ball fair," he said.
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.