By VICKI BROWN
The Lowcountry Regional Airport Commission and the Colleton County School Board conducted a joint meeting on January 6, to discuss the proposed 6th grade academy and how the school boards’ plans to build the school near the airport is in violation of local laws.
At present, the school district has plans to construct the new academy across from Robertson Boulevard on Colleton Loop Road; however, this is directly located at the end of the airport’s takeoff and landing runway.
“I provided the school district with information that there might be problems with this location as far back as early November. It appears that the board is moving forward with its plans, so we are here to make sure you have all the information you need before you spend a great deal of money planning for this particular site,” said Walterboro Mayor Bill Young, who spoke first about the school district’s proposed construction site during the meeting. “Everything we are talking about is dictated by state and local laws, regulations, and guidelines which would be available and easily discoverable by architects and engineers.”
According to Young, the Lowcountry Regional Airport Commission conferred with three different lawyers, airport engineers, the SC Aeronautics Commission, and the assistant city manager in charge of planning.
According to their findings, there are several different and separate regulations and issues, any of which might prohibit the use of this site.
First, the airport layout plan shows the different zones, the site’s location within those zones and lists land use guidance within those zones, particularly listing schools as an incompatible use because most of the proposed site is in Zone A, the runway protection zone.
Another issue is how the use of this property is impacted by city ordinances, the city’s Unified Development Ordinance and the airport overlay zones.
Under the city’s unified development ordinance, no structure may be erected, altered or maintained within any of the airports three overlay zones and may be grandfathered only if it has been diligently pursued.
A third issue is review and approval from the Federal Aviation Authority, which is against a school being placed near the end of a busy runway.
A fourth is a review by the SC Aeronautics Commission Safety Inspector David Smith.
“Locating a school near the end of an active runway is considered an incompatible land use with the airport. The facility could potentially cause safety issues, not only for pilots using the airport, but also students and school staff on the ground,” wrote Smith. “The State of South Carolina had a recent similar situation where a school was in the approach to a runway resulting in an incompatible land use that cost the FAA, the State, and the local government over $30 million dollars to correct. Approval of this use at the proposed location would constitute an incompatible land use under Title 55, chapter 13 of state law. creating a foreseeable hazard and potential nuisance to aviation safety.”
Smith also went on to say that if the safety guidelines were ignored, then LRA would possibly suffer damaging consequences.
“As a recipient of state and federal grants, the LRA has signed grant assurances that they will abide by. One of those assurances is that the airport will take appropriate action to restrict the use of land in the vicinity of the airport to activities that are compatible with normal airport operations,” Smith added. “Failure to abide by grant assurances could cause the airport to jeopardize their ability to obtain Federal and State assistance and/or even require the airport to reimburse grant funds.”
Should the school board decide to proceed, the district would have to have plans drawn, the plans would have to be submitted to the city.
The city would then send the plans to the SC Aeronautics Commission and the Federal Aviation Authority for review.
If approved at that level, the School Board would have to request an exception from the city’s Board of Zoning appeals. Should that not be approved, the school district could file an appeal in circuit court.
Charles Murdaugh, school board member, remarked that finances were a huge concern for the district, but they had enough grant money to build on the Colleton Loop site since the district already owned the property. Murdaugh asked if the city or county was willing to give the district land on which to build the academy, but there was no response.
Colleton County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Vallerie Cave said that if the Colleton Loop site was unavailable, then the district would have to move to Plan B or C.
She did not elaborate on what those plans were.
“Investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in plans for a site which appears to have little chance of approval is not a wise move for the school district,” said Young.
The school board went into executive session to discuss the future of the 6th grade academy.
The Lowcountry Regional Airport (LRA) is owned jointly by the City of Walterboro and Colleton County. The airport commission is established by city and county ordinance.
Present at the meeting were LRA Commission members: County Council member and Vice Chairman of the Airport Commission Phillip Taylor, County Council Chairman Steve Murdaugh, County Treasurer Becky Hill, County Auditor Jeff Slocum, City Council Member James Broderick, Secretary Treasurer Chris Bickley, and Bill Young, Walterboro’s mayor and commission chairman.
Also present were City Manager Jeff Molinari, assistant City Manager Hank Amundson and City Attorney Brown McLeod. The Executive Director of the SC Aeronautics Commission James Stephens was present as well as David Smith, the project manager and airport safety inspector for the SC Aeronautics Commission.
The Colleton County School Board members were present, as well as Dr. Vallerie Cave, superintendent, and other staff members and attorney for the district.
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