The executive director of the Glynn County Airport Commission said Tuesday that if the local community can get the necessary infrastructure in place, the sky is the limit for future growth at the community’s two airports.
In a presentation given to the airport commission and county commission this week, airport commission director Robert Burr said his office has been involved in creating a capital improvement plan for the two airports during the past few months.
Included in the plan are four major projects: a master plan for the Brunswick Golden Isles Airport, a wildlife hazard mitigation plan for both airports, the rehabilitation of a secondary runway and the clearing of obstructions at the McKinnon St. Simons Island Airport.
Other capital improvements, like new aprons and a terminal complex, have been identified but have no source of funding.
Burr said the airport commission is already anticipating benefits from the expansion at the Gulfstream Aerospace facility at the Brunswick Golden Isles Airport, and a proposal to build a hotel at the McKinnon St. Simons Island Airport’s fixed based operator is nearly a reality.
“This (capital improvement) program is for bringing economic development,” Burr said. “An airport is a facilitator of trade in a community. We’re in a great position to grow, but we have to have an infrastructure ready for that development. That’s the bottom line.”
Currently, Burr said the airport commission funds the majority of its projects through two sources: an annual $1 million entitlement check from the Federal Aviation Administration, and other, discretionary funds distributed by the FAA by priority. These discretionary funds were previously used to pay for the Brunswick runway project with contributions from local and state governments.
“From a financial standpoint, most development money comes from the federal government,” Burr said, but the FAA is reducing its share of these funds from 95 to 90 percent, leaving the local community to find new ways of contributing funds to infrastructural improvements.
To install the infrastructure necessary to immediately accommodate more industry would cost the airport commission nearly $10 million, Burr said. If the community continues funding projects through entitlements, it could wait a decade and pay for the projects as the $1 million entitlement payments come in. The other option, the director said, is to find more funds and move the projects along.
Brunswick and Glynn County Development Authority Director Churck Scragg said the sooner the infrastructure is addressed, the better. He has already had to turn away an industry interested in the airport, he said, because the infrastructure was not in place.
“From the development authority’s perspective (the airport) is the low-hanging fruit. The problem is, I’m a car salesman without any cars,” Scragg said. “Basically, we don’t have any concrete.”
Scragg said however the airport commission chooses to fund s capital improvements, it has the EDA’s support.
Airport commissioner Bill Brunson said special purpose local option sales tax receipts, the funding mechanism most likely to provide the necessary funds in the shortest amount of time, would not bring in proceeds for another two years, even if a ballot initiative were passed this year.
Still, airport commissioner Donald Combs said that based on the amount of time it takes to complete a major capital project, those time lines might match up.
“If we had the money today, it would still take another year or two to complete,” Combs said. “We’re on target. We just need to keep moving forward.”
Also at the airport commission’s meeting Tuesday, the board voted to amend a planned development text for the St. Simons Island airport that Burr said will allow the commission to lease more property on site.
Reporter Kelly Quimby writes about government and other local topics. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 265-8320, ext. 321.