U.S. House approves airport relocation funds
After decades of debate, the St. Marys Airport could be headed toward a move. U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter sponsored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that includes $6 million to move the airport. The act passed the House on May 18.
"Kings Bay is not only a vital strategic asset for our national security but an economic engine for our area,” Carter said in a press release. "The legislation passed today will relieve these security concerns while releasing the City of St. Marys from financial hardship associated with relocating the airport to a more suitable location. While this is an important move, it is only the first step and I pledge to work with the community to bring a new general aviation airport online as soon as possible."
The airport’s proximity to Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base has long been a concern, especially after Sept. 11, 2001. The airport was closed shortly after the attacks and reopened later that year. A restricted flight zone known as P-50 has since been established over Kings Bay. Relocations efforts began in 2003 with voters saying in a 2008 referendum that they favored relocation if it could be done without costing taxpayers.
If the act becomes law, the U.S. Department of Defense would be authorized to use the money to “free” the city of its financial obligations to the Federal Aviation Administration and close the airport, according to Carter. A combination of city, state and federal money is used to fund capital improvements at the airport. If the airport closed without being relocated, the city would face financial penalties for having used federal money for those improvements.
The $6 million would also go toward establishing a new general aviation airport in southeast Georgia.
“The city knew that the future of the airport was under discussion at the highest levels in Washington by the FAA and Navy,” a city press release reads. “There now appears to be a pathway forward agreed upon by both parties. … The city appreciated the efforts of the FAA and Navy in working towards a resolution and looks forward to working with both agencies in resolving this matter.”
At this point, the bill still has to gain approval from the Senate and president to become law.