Volunteers maintain the Williamsburg Regional Airport, but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) states, while many regulations have been met, such as keeping the grass cut, others, though not critical will have to be addressed within the year. Photo By Michaele Duke
Mowing the grass around the Williamsburg Regional Airport no longer will be enough to keep the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at bay. Airport Interim Director Jack Whiteside, along with volunteers who have been maintaining the facility and surrounding grounds for some years now, are seeking answers and direction from Williamsburg County Council.
Whiteside’s appeal for governance as well as revenue to keep the facility up and running was brought before council during an August 22, council meeting. Whiteside said current grant funds could be jeopardized if something isn't done soon.
For the most part, volunteers maintain the facility from changing light bulbs to landscaping to repairing equipment, sometimes at their own expense but their efforts haven't satisfied the FAA, which recently issued several citations. While many regulations have been met, such as keeping the grass cut, others, though not critical will have to be addressed within the year.
One issue is the need for security fencing, as unauthorized motorcycle racing and illegal hunting have been an ongoing problem. Based on AirNav.com statistical information, during a 12-month period ending February 2011 aircraft operations at the airport average 115 per week. The county built the airport in the 1970s. Over the years, it has seen several expansions to include a one-mile runway to accommodate corporate jets. In addition, an Aeronautics Commission was established to oversee operations; however, in 1998 the group was abolished, leaving the airport with little oversight. That same year Williamsburg County Attorney Billy Jenkinson drafted a governance package but council essentially shelved the strategy. And in 2007, council engaged a consulting firm who issued a report on airport governance but that too fell by the wayside. Therefore, Jenkinson said a new plan is in the works. The plan will enhance the industry as well as reestablish administrative leadership. The proposed plan will include three hangers, which would fall inline with the county's current infrastructure projects. Hangers that are on the property are privately owned.
"What we're seeking tonight is not for you to adopt anything. The question is do you want to leave it like it is or do you want us to come back with a more comprehensive plan," said Jenkinson. Funding usually stipulates progress and considering a total operating budget of $13,875 the county will have to come up with some creative financing. Part of the plan will include revenue generating strategies.
Williamsburg County Supervisor Stanley Pasley emphasized the importance of addressing the role of the airport as a county asset. "This is a asset. Its come time that we deal with it in that manner," said Pasley. "Moving forward, I think it’s compelling that we not squander an opportunity to maximize the potential of this asset the county has."
Council did not take action regarding the development of a plan; however, they passed a motion authorizing the attorney, supervisor and appropriate staff to present council at their next meeting with information that will keep the county within regulations. Due to the Labor Day holiday, council's next regular meeting, which is normally scheduled for the first Monday of the month, has been canceled. Therefore, council's next meeting is scheduled for September 18.