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Authority moves forward with airport upgrades
ST. MARYS -- The St. Marys Airport Authority voted at a special meeting Wednesday to proceed with planned improvements to the city's municipal airport, including construction of a security fence, despite objections from the U.S. Navy.

The authority voted during a meeting at City Hall with Navy officials, who reiterated the Navy's desire for the city to move the airport away from Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.

Authority members said three acts of vandalism this year to runway lighting demonstrate there is a liability and safety concern that cannot be ignored.

"It raises the bar that what we've done is not enough," authority member Frank Drane said. "I think we're going to have to do something more."

The Navy has maintained that the city should be focused on relocating the airport, which it feels is a threat to safety and security at the submarine base that is in the take-off flight path of the airport.

Melinda NesSmith-Picard, community planning liaison officer at Kings Bay, said the Navy has not changed its position, citing a letter sent to the city and airport authority.

The letter from Rear Adm. John Scorby Jr., commander Navy Region Southeast, expressed the Navy's desire to have the airport relocated to ensure "safe and uninterrupted operations at this strategically critical installation."

"Safety and security threats generated by operations at St. Marys airport predate the transformative Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York City and the Pentagon," Scorby wrote. He went on to say in the letter that repeated base incursions create significant disruptions and raise the specter of needlessly dangerous reactive responses.

"We can no longer accept this state of affairs," he wrote. In one recent incident, wayward parachutists landed at the base.

Nader Bagheri, a consultant for the airport, said $332,000 in funding has been approved for improvements at the airport and it's simply a matter of conducting an engineering plan for the work to complete security fencing in two phases. About 12,000 feet of fencing would be placed in areas that need it most, as well as striping one runway.

"We're ready to go," Bagheri said.

The airport authority and city council would have to approve the final request to the Federal Aviation Administration to release the funds for the work. That vote should come in December.

After listening to concerns about the liability the city and airport authority face if an accident occurred and a lawsuit was filed, Navy officials at the meeting maintained their position.

"Our position really hasn't changed," said Scott Bassett, a public affairs officer at Kings Bay.

Frank Frasca, an authority member, said the airport authority is unable to attract new tenants because of the uncertainty surrounding the airport's future. "The city can't decide whether to keep it open or close it," he said.

* Reporter Gordon Jackson writes about Camden County and other local topics. Contact him at gjackson@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 464-7655.



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