Airport still struggling with funding to repair tornado damage

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The Lowcountry Regional Airport Commission met August 13 to update members on progress made since COVID began and the tornado damaged the property on April 13.

According to Roger Medlin, operations manager, the airport suffered financial losses in the spring with the onset of COVID. Fortunately, summer fuel sales increased dramatically by 40% in July and 20% so far in August as compared to last year.

Tommy Rowe, airport manager, is pleased with most of the progress.

He indicated that the Comprehensive Airport Drainage Project, which started in March, is progressing satisfactorily and hopefully will soon be completed.

Since the tornado, the doors to the Aerotech and Swamp Fox Avionics hangars have been repaired and are in operation. The decorative fencing and gates that surround the airport’s entrance as well as chain link fences are almost completely repaired.

However, John Stieglitz, director of Colleton County’s Capital Projects and Purchasing Department, and Rowe are still trying to work with the Insurance Reserve Fund (IRF) to receive tornado damage estimates, which is taking longer than expected.

“This has been a long, drawn out process,” said Stieglitz. “Dozens of emails have gone back and forth, as well as phone calls to IRF asking for estimates for hangar repairs. They have been pushing back, and I have been getting the run around,” he said.

A member of the commission suggested taking legal action to force IRF into complying with requests for estimates.

But meanwhile, according to the county’s commercial building codes and procurement guidelines, hanger estimates over a certain amount need an architectural drawing before approval can be given for repairs.

A county architect submitted an estimate of $15,610 that entails a drawing, an engineer to check the beams and structure, and an electrician to check electrical wiring of the six-unit “T” hangar. The estimate for that building alone to rebuild and put into service is approximately $140,000-$160,000.

Before contracting with the architectural firm, the commission was hoping to be reimbursed from IRF for the architect’s work. But IRF is not responding, and repairs are waiting. So the commission is considering moving on without the reimbursement.

In order to begin rebuilding and repairs, a drawing must be completed and submitted to the county and IRF. IRF must give and then approve estimates for repairs, and then, according to the procurement policy, bids must be advertised for the projects. After a company is chosen, repairs can begin. But as far as the commission and pilots of the airport are concerned, this is taking too long.

“For the smaller hangars, we are trying to get IRF to give us one hangar estimate at a time. If they would just do that, we could get started on repairs,” said Rowe “Because those buildings are smaller and not as expensive to repair, we won’t need to go through a bidding process. Once we get the funds from IRF, we can move quickly on repairs, but they are not cooperating,” he said.

“We are doing everything in our power to fix this situation for the pilots, travelers, and community,” said Mayor Bill Young. “We are working diligently to repair what we can within our means. This airport is vital to our community, and we are determined to restore and rebuild it.”

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