Dec. 13–ST. MARYS — The under-used and deteriorating St. Marys Airport has become such a point of contention to an adjacent Navy submarine base that it should be closed, even without plans to relocate it, a state-sponsored study says.
The Camden/Kings Bay Joint Land Use Study, which analyzed public and private land uses near Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay as part of a statewide program to accommodate military bases, was unveiled Thursday at a public meeting at City Hall.
The year-long study by Atlanta consulting firm AMEC identified the airport as the “primary compatibility issue” for the Navy in the county.
It concluded that the airport has very little flight activity, has deteriorated, lacks security fencing and has been damaged by vandalism.
The overall finding is, “the airport is not sustainable in its current location” and action must be taken to move it.
The preferred course of action in the study would be for the city to close the general aviation facility, with or without an intent to build a new airport farther from the submarine base that has expressed concerns about the potential threat to security from private planes taking off and landing nearby.
An alternative would be to close the north-south runway and remove the north part of the airport property from use.
St. Marys Airport Authority member Frank Frasca said the recommendation to close the airport was expected, but it will take more than a study to shut down the facility.
“The Navy’s got to work with us or nothing’s going to happen,” he said. “They need to get personally involved.
“The hitch on closing the airport is the money the city would owe the Federal Aviation Administration. Maybe if we and the Navy sit down with the FAA and tell them closing the airport is in the interest of national security, then we can close the airport tomorrow.”
Another concern cited in the study is a water tower at the Cumberland Harbour housing development that is close enough to Kings Bay to give a clear line of sight to some base operations. The study suggests a higher level of security or lowering the height of the tower to address security concerns.
The study also suggests the expansion of the designated “land use notification area” surrounding the base.
The area currently requires notification to the Navy if the city plans any zoning changes or if construction projects are planned within 3,000 feet of the base that could have the potential to impact the facility. One recommendation is to expand the zone to 9,000 feet.
“That’s a lot of land,” said Sidney Howell, a St. Marys City Council member. “I don’t support it.”
St. Marys City Councilman Jim Gant said the study provides a lot of information that will enable city officials to make wise decisions in the area surrounding Kings Bay.
“There’s a lot of information, important information,” he said. “It gives us the basis to look at things.”
Inga Kennedy, a consultant for AMEC, said the city, county and Navy will be responsible for implementing some or all of the recommendations. A final recommendation will be released early next year after a final public comment period.
Kennedy said information about the draft proposal will be posted online in early January — at email@example.com — and the public will have a chance to suggest changes. A final draft will also include some cost estimates to implement some of the recommendations.