City considers work on Walesboro project

The Columbus Redevelopment Commission held a special joint meeting Thursday afternoon with the city’s Board of Aviation Commissioners to discuss the city’s plans for the proposed research & development / industrial park in Walesboro.

The city and the Aviation Board are working together to develop and sell approximately 470 acres of the former airport site. The Aviation Board currently controls use of the property.

No official action was taken during Thursday’s meeting. Airport Board Chairman Caleb Tennis says the purpose of the meeting was to share with the public the work being done by HWC Engineering to perform engineering work, as well as an economic impact analysis on the site. He adds that the meeting also was meant for HWC to provide an update on the project, to get feedback from residents and make sure that those involved were “on the same page.”

As for what happens next with the project, Tennis says that they expect final deliverables to be ready by the end of the year. Then, he says the Airport Board needs to finalize getting authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to pursue the project. Tennis says that the FAA has authority over all current, and former, airport sites across the U.S. for national security reasons. He adds that they are also awaiting an environmental analysis, site-plans and surveys before the first lots can be put up for sale.

How this project progresses will depend, to an extent, on Columbus Mayor-Elect, and current City Council member, Jim Lienhoop. He has been critical of outgoing Mayor Kristen Brown’s handling of the project. Specifically, he took issue with her decision to hire HWC Engineering. In an interview with our news-gathering partners at “The Republic,” Lienhoop said that the HWC Engineering contract wasn’t necessary at this time. He told the newspaper that work done by Ratio Architects in 2012 is “well known among those working in economic development,” seemingly implying that at least some of the work recently assigned to HWC was already done by Ratio. Mayor Brown says that is not the case, as “Ratio did no engineering” in its 2012 work.

Mayor Brown invited Councilman Lienhoop to attend Thursday’s meeting to share his objections and contribute to the discussions. Lienhoop declined, citing prior commitments. The Mayor then asked him to send in a list of concerns that he has about the process, and project, overall. Councilman Lienhoop declined that offer as well. In an email to the Mayor, Lienhoop replied, “I believe that our focus now should be how we go forward, with a view to developing the Walesboro site for the community‚Äôs best advantage.”