Berkeley airport getting revamp

MONCKS CORNER -- Another small airport near Charleston is getting a face-lift, and it could help attract new jobs.

Berkeley County got a $3.5 million federal grant to repave the county airport and improve drainage and lighting, officials announced last week.

The money to keep the airport safe comes from the Federal Aviation Authority.

The county also is working on a plan to extend the runway to handle corporate jets.

An airport near a plant site is often a key factor in attracting a new industry, Berkeley County Supervisor Dan Davis said.

"Having an airport that supports business jet travel is very important," he said.

DuPont is one of several industries near the Berkeley County Airport, along with Google and others. DuPont Plant Manager Ellis McGaughy said the airport is an important factor.

"A lot of these executives are on a very tight schedule (and don't have time to fly into the Charleston International Airport and drive to Berkeley County)," he said. "It (the expansion) has a potential to be very beneficial for all the industries in this area."

The Charleston Executive Airport on Johns Island completed a renovation earlier this year. Executives often fly in for meetings at The Sanctuary on Kiawah Island.

Mount Pleasant Regional Airport opened a new terminal in March 2009. At the opening, state Commerce Department Division of Aeronautics Executive Director Paul Werts said that without these small airports, American industries could not compete in a global environment.

Most corporate jets require a 5,000-foot runway, and the Berkeley County runway is closer to 4,350 feet.

Berkeley Electric Cooperative and Home Telephone kicked in $1.2 million to start the extension project, which is in the mapping phase now. The money was set aside for economic development under the state's Utility Tax Credit Program, Berkeley Electric Cooperative Manager of Economic Development Mark Gaddy said.

Several proposed extension routes are mapped out in an environmental assessment report, and the FAA has to approve the plan.

The preferred route would disturb 10 to 15 acres of wetlands to the south of the runway. An alternative goes 650 feet north toward Whitesville Road, but that would encroach on houses, County Engineer Frank Carson said. A third route splits the difference and goes 400 feet south and 250 feet north. Carson expects the FAA to favor the southern route.

Coastal Conservation League Program Director Nancy Vinson said expanding an airport is certainly an important project, and she only opposes wetlands permits when the disturbance is significant and when there are reasonable alternatives. She had not yet studied the airport plans.

"We look forward to reviewing the details of this airport expansion proposal," she said.

Work on repaving the existing runway and improving drainage and lighting should start within the next 30 to 45 days, Carson said.

The schedule of the extension depends on the FAA approving the route and then getting the permits. That probably will take another two years or so, Carson said.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or dmunday@postandcourier.com.