Email to Navy upsets St. Marys, Ga. officials
In the email, lawyer Jim Stein questioned the viability of the St. Marys Airport, which has been unable to attract tenants because of the Navy's safety and security concerns about the facility located about 2 miles from the high-security base. He said the city council has not involved the authority in decisions regarding the airport's future and questioned the wisdom of using federal funds for improvements for a facility that the Navy wants closed.
"It is a continuing and frustrating problem that the authority has to contend with," Stein wrote in the email sent to Navy officials last week. "I am of the opinion the city should be on board with the authority and all considerations should be given to the Navy's problems with the airport."
The Navy has considered the airport a safety and security concern since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania because of its close proximity to Kings Bay. But city officials have been unable to agree on where to relocate the airport, despite discussing the issue for more than a decade.
City officials estimate it would cost taxpayers about $5 million to close the airport because the FAA wants the city to sell the property and use the money to help build a new facility. They are also concerned that the city would have to repay the FAA for any improvements already done at the airport.
Stein said the Navy could persuade the FAA to absolve the city of any responsibility to repay funds for improvements that have already been made or for their share of the cost to build a new airport.
Stein also questions the wisdom of asking for FAA funding to build a security fence estimated to cost $500,000 if the airport is going to be closed.
"The decision is with the city and it has been ignored for years," Stein wrote. "I don't know how the Navy could make its concerns any clearer. It has been addressed by the authority and the authority has taken the lead in the concerns, but not the city."
Mayor Bill Deloughy said he was "terribly disappointed" with Stein's email.
"To say I'm livid is an understatement," he said. "I think it's 100 percent wrong."
If the city closes the airport, Deloughy said federal regulations require the city to sell the property and use the proceeds to build another airport.
"That's what the law requires," he said. "I worked 10 years to get this going."
Councilman John Morrissey said he and other city officials hope to resolve the issue sometime in the near future.
"Our relationship with the Navy is something we work at," he said. "It's important to make sure we take care of our military."
Councilman Jim Gant described the email as "unfortunate." He said city council members have been "caught in a vise" because the Navy wants the airport closed and the FAA wants an airport in the county.
"St. Marys can't bring this to any type of conclusion," Gant said. "It's up to the federal government to make a final decision. We need help."
Officials at Kings Bay declined to comment about the email or the reaction by city officials.
Stein was unapologetic about the email, despite criticism by city council members,
"I am not apologizing to anyone and stand by each and every line, word, sentence and paragraph," Stein said. "For the past 10 years, the city has been fooling around with some plans for the airport and has never included the authority."
Stein said it's time the issue is resolved. "The city and the Navy need to get on the same page and do something," he said. "It's been an ongoing problem from day one. We have wasted our time and energy."