Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Leaders Seeks Funds to Move Airport; St. Marys Airport Called Security Risk for Kings Bay

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Leaders Seeks Funds to Move Airport; St. Marys Airport Called Security Risk for Kings Bay

Article excerpt

Byline: Gordon Jackson, Times-Union staff writer

ST. MARYS -- Concerns of accidental violations of airspace have always been an issue at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, but the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks only magnified the problem.

With a federal base realignment committee preparing to evaluate the nation's military instillations for cutbacks or possible closure, public officials met yesterday to discuss closing the St. Marys Airport.

The task facing those who attended the meeting is trying to find funding to build a new $30 million airport in an area that won't be considered a security risk to the Navy base. The municipal airport is less than 2 miles from Kings Bay, the Navy's home port to eight Trident submarines.

"It's a security issue, but we have not flagged it as a serious encroachment issue right now," said Capt. John Cahoon, commanding officer at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base.

Most violations occur when a pilot unfamiliar with the area unwittingly flies over the base en route to the airport. Temporary Federal Aviation Administration restrictions, still in effect since the airport reopened about two months after the terrorist attacks, ban all aircraft flying lower than 3,000 feet within a 2-mile radius of the base.

Though the airport is less than 2 miles from the base, the FAA flight restriction zone begins at the center of Kings Bay. Both airport runways are outside the no-fly zone, but departing aircraft must take a hard bank to the left on one runway after takeoff to avoid flying over the base, airport officials said.

The other runway poses no problems for aircraft during takeoffs and landings, they said.

National Navy League President-elect Sheila McNeill said continued airspace violations at Kings Bay are a concern because "one of the biggest issues this year will be encroachment" near military bases worldwide.

McNeill said local elected officials could "add value to the base" by showing the Navy and base realignment committee members that "we will do everything we can to accelerate the process" of building a new airport.

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