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Airport project goes up for bids

The Myrtle Beach International Airport terminal expansion may have cleared the funding hurdles that have caused some Horry County officials to hesitate in scheduling a groundbreaking for the project.

Horry County started advertising bid packages for the first stages of the terminal expansion this week, and packages for the Harrelson Boulevard extension are scheduled to be advertised for bids this Sunday. The Horry County Council will hear a presentation from project managers M.B. Kahn Construction and the county Department of Airports on the cost, funding and building schedule for the expansion at its regular council meeting Tuesday.

Airport department staff would not release numbers for funding or the cost of the project before the Tuesday presentation, but Interim Co-director of Airports Pat Apone scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony for the terminal expansion for May 17. County Councilman Howard Barnard, who is running for council chairman, mentioned at a campaign event Tuesday that the council would be getting good news about funding next week.

"I would anticipate that we will get good news at the information briefing Tuesday night. I'm excited to hopefully learn that we will be able to build the new terminal at a price that will continue to go down," he said.

Funding has been a question for the project, which will likely be paid for partly through bonding and partly through federal grants and other sources.Several county officials said they would be uncomfortable starting construction on the project previously estimated at $130 million until most or all of that funding had been secured. The site plan was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration in the last few weeks, which cleared the way for some of the federal funds. Apone and others at the Airport Advisory Committee meeting hinted Wednesday that the total price tag may have been reduced, but would not confirm a new amount.

M.B. Kahn representative John Clark said the terminal expansion bid package advertised Sunday and due by May 18 includes bids for work on site clearing, preparing the footprint of the building and installing pilings, concrete and steel. He said the Harrelson Boulevard bid package will include creating a bypass for drivers to use during construction of the extension. The Harrelson Boulevard extension received some time-sensitive funding from the County Transportation Committee, which awards money from the county's portion of the state gasoline tax.

Project work to build a new airport fire-response facility also will go out to bid this week and will be due back by May 25, Clark said.

The terminal expansion project won approval from the Myrtle Beach Community Appearance Board on March 19. The airport is owned and operated by Horry County, but because it is inside city limits, the appearance board had to approve the external appearance and design. The board held up previous plans for an airport expansion because the additional terminal space would have been across the runway instead of adjacent to the existing terminal.

Bob Woods, co-interim director of the department of airports, said the project will have to go before the board again for signage and lighting approvals, but that would not hold up the scheduled groundbreaking and will likely happen closer to completion. He said the board also will have to see the drawings when they're finished.

Horry County Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland said she was satisfied with the project's progress, recently getting an update from several parties involved in the funding for the airport including Frasca and Associates LLC, the transportation consulting and financial advising firm working with the county on the project.

"I'm pretty confident about where it stands," she said. "The team was confident that the funding streams would be sufficient to move forward with the planned expansion. We won't know until the expansion is actually finished if we'll be on or under budget."