Senator Isakson Asks For Federal Funding to Relocate St. Marys Airport

Today, Senator Johnny Isakson announced that he has filed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that will secure federal funding to relocate St. Marys Airport away from the nearby Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base.

From Senator Isakson’s press release:

The current location of the Camden County, Ga., airport has for years raised serious national security concerns given its proximity to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, which is home to the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, making the base a critical player in one-third of our strategic nuclear arsenal.

 Isakson’s amendment would provide for the move to be completed through coordination between the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Defense, which has now signaled its willingness to assume a portion of the costs associated with the move.

The St. Marys Airport has been a trouble spot for years now. It is only one mile south of the naval base, which is home to submarines armed with thermonuclear weapons. After the September 11th terrorist attacks, the airport was temporarily closed by the FAA. It reopened in December 2001, but the Navy continued to press for its permanent closure. Navy officials were initially worried that a plane crash could disrupt operations, but later they became concerned with the growing number of skydivers that were landing at the base. In 2012, the Navy formally requested that the airport be moved.

While the cost of moving the airport may no longer be an important issue, St. Marys will likely face resistance on other fronts, particularly from environmental groups. In 2009, Satilla Riverkeeper and St. Marys Earthkeepers both opposed a proposed relocation site near Woodbine because it would have threatened wetlands and runoff into the Satilla River. Other proposed sites were OK’d by the environmental groups, but St. Marys would have had to use eminent domain to condemn the properties. City officials have been reluctant to do so in the past.

Senator Isakson’s amendment is just one of many being offered to the Senate version of the NDAA this week. The House passed its version of the NDAA in mid-May. Georgia Representative Buddy Carter (R) successfully offered a similar amendment that funds the airport relocation. Once the Senate passes its version of the NDAA, it will have to be reconciled with the House version and approved by President Obama. If the Isakson-Carter amendment survives, it will then fight for a place in the next defense appropriation bill which could be at the forefront of another 11th hour omnibus showdown before government spending dries up in late September.

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