Month of change offers lift for airport operations

A project manager watches a 20,000-pound steel dome being lifted toward the central hall at Charleston International Airport on Wednesday. Placement of the 32-foot-diameter structure marked the "topping out" of the terminal redevelopment, a $189 million project with another $10 million in upfits by concessionaires.

The long-running dysfunctional situation at the Charleston County Aviation Authority may finally be settling down.

Developments over the past month have changed the makeup of the 13-member board and kept the agency out of court.

And a topping-out ceremony Wednesday with the steel skeleton of a new dome for the nearly $200 million terminal renovation project lifted spirits further.

Last week, the agency agreed to settle a gender discrimination complaint filed by former airports director Sue Stevens for $270,000. Stevens left the agency nearly one year ago this month, citing belittlement by some board members because she is a woman.

The settlement ended the dispute, which took seed much earlier than Stevens' departure.

Both sides left the mediation table happy last week, putting to rest what could have turned into a highly publicized mudfest in federal court.

The other change involves the board's composition.

The Senate delegation in June nominated organization development consultant and trainer Margaret Seidler and former Charleston City Council member Henry Fishburne to replace lawyer and former judge Larry Richter and former congressman Tommy Hartnett, whose terms expired June 1.

The House delegation followed a couple of weeks later by nominating former Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails to replace businessman Mallory Factor, who did not seek reappointment because of teaching commitments. His term also expired June 1.

House members also reappointed Helen Hill, Charleston's tourism chief.

Swails served on the board until last fall by virtue of his being mayor of the state's fourth largest municipality. The insurance agent did not seek re-election.

Swails, the former finance chairman of the Aviation Authority, doesn't have much catching up to do with airport operations, but Seidler and Fishburne are fresh faces to what's become an important organization in the booming Charleston region, now that aerospace giant Boeing is parked right next door to the state's busiest airport.

"We lost three members who provided valuable input," Airports Director Paul Campbell said. "But we picked up three that will have new perspectives."

He referred to the past week as "big" for the Aviation Authority.

"We settled the legal issue and settled it amicably," Campbell said. "And we placed the last piece of structural steel on the terminal."

Airport work, including $10 million for concessionaires to upfit their spaces, is set for completion in September 2015.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or