St. Marys Airport Fights To Keep Planes Flying

Navy Wants It Shut Down Because Of Its Proximity To Kings Bay Submarine Base

ST. MARYS, Ga. - The St. Marys Airport Authority will hold a meeting Monday night to respond to the Navy's suggestion that the town's airport be shut down because it poses a security threat.

The airport was closed for security reasons after the Sept. 11 attacks because the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base is less than a mile away.

"It's a viable airport, especially for our community," pilot Mike Helton said. "I mean, it's airports like this that bring industry into a little town like this."

Helton bought his small plane with a friend and learned to fly at the St. Marys airport.

The airport opened for a few hours Saturday morning to allow some aircraft owners to fly their planes somewhere else. But there is a real possibility that the planes may never be allowed to return.

"We hope we don't lose it entirely," Helton said. "We hope this is just a temporary thing."

Eyewitness News' Brad Puffer reported that the St. Marys' runway has been available for small planes since 1942, more than twice as long as the nearby submarine base.

But because the runway is so close to the base, the Navy would like to shut it down permanently.

Jeff Stanford recently signed a 25-year lease with the city to run the facility. He has invested large amounts of money, which he will lose if the airport is forced to close.

"If they just tell me to pack up and go, I'm over, I'm devastated, I'm bankrupt," Stanford said.

Stanford said that he never believed that his little airport could be a threat to national security. He said that he will now just have to wait and hope for the best.

"Little airplanes that are close to any base is a nuisance, but it's not really a threat," Stanford said. "That whole scenario has changed."

St. Marys airport has quadrupled in size in the past year.

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