Hilton Head Island Packet
September 29, 2015
BY STEPHEN FASTENAU
Beaufort-Port Royal sea level panel offers airport suggestions
The Beaufort County Airport and Federal Aviation Administration should consider the effects of climate change and sea level rise in future safety improvements, a local environmental panel wrote in a letter this month to the FAA’s district office in Atlanta.
The Beaufort/Royal Sea Level Rise Task Force says the airport is one of the primary areas of concern for flooding.
“With 2 feet of sea level rise, the runway becomes vulnerable to inundation,” panel co-chairman Chris Marsh wrote to the FAA. “In fact, this is already occurring during extreme high tides (known as “King tides”), which are often 1-2ft above the average high tide mark. At 3 ft of sea level rise, the southwestern portion of the property would likely be inundated leaving no access to the runway and several hangars would be vulnerable to flooding.”
As part of its plan to address what it deems eight critical areas, the task force met with airport director Jon Rembold in August. Rembold told the group there were future improvements planned, but that they did not account for possible vulnerabilities to rising sea level, said task force member Frank Knapp, who is president of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce.
Rembold suggested the group write the FAA. The airport’s design is driven by FAA standards and changes would have to be a result of the agency addressing the issue, he said.
The airport is currently working to clear tree obstructions on its south end, improve runway safety areas at both ends and complete the parallel taxiway on the airfield.
Raising the level of the runway would be a large project that would require federal participation through its airport improvement program grants, Rembold said Monday. The FAA would first have to deem it a policy issue.
Rembold said the airfield and runway currently remain dry, even during recent higher than normal tides.
“I think that really any time you’ve got a chance to build some resiliency into your plan — especially with a critical piece of infrastructure like the airport — if that opportunity comes around, then it would probably be in our interest to take advantage of it,” Rembold said.
The sea level panel includes concerned citizens, scientists, politicians and activists who have identified the eight areas threatened by the possibility of higher waters.
Sea levels have risen 6 inches since 1965, based on U.S. National Climate Assessment numbers from a tide gauge at Fort Pulaski, Ga.
The airport is one of the local areas the group has targeted for preventative measures.
“It is pretty low to the ocean level; it could experience serious problems very quickly,” Knapp said.
Members of the group also met with neighborhood association heads this month. The plan is to meet with representatives of all of the neighborhoods individually, Knapp said.