The days when Liberty County’s civil aviation needs were served by the small aging airstrip sometimes jokingly called Walthourville International are long gone.
That point was emphasized Friday when military and civilian officials cut the ribbon officially opening a 1,500 foot extension of a 5,000 ft. runway at MidCoast Regional Airport at Wright Army Airfield.
The joint use civil-military airport not only provided a much improved facility for civilians but allowed the Army to dramatically expand utilization of its Wright Army Airfield. Ground was broken in March 2016.
Fort Stewart Garrison Commander Col. Jason Wolter said the joint use airport showed “partnership in its finest form,” and strengthened the readiness of Fort Stewart to accomplish its missions. In praising the numerous officials who worked to create and improve the airport, Wolter named only County Administrator Joey Brown.
Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette honored various partners.
Hinesville Mayor Allen Brown said three people had been involved in the joint airport project from day one: Joey Brown, and Ron Tolley and Carmen Cole of the Liberty County Development Authority.
Mayor Brown traced the origin of the joint airport to a 2002 phone call from Vernon Martin, head of the agency now known as the Coastal Regional Commission. Martin told then Hinesville Mayor Tom Ratcliffe that substantial funding for such projects might be available through Sen Paul Coverdell.
Local officials made their pitch to Coverdale and money began to flow. A hitch occurred when Coverdell died, but Zell Miller became senator and continued the support.
“How well we all work together!” said state Rep. Al Williams. Williams recalled the times when civilian communities were hard hit when most soldiers were deployed, “and everyone left and some took the tumbleweeds with them.”
Projects like the airport make the community look good to industrial prospects said Williams, a member of the Liberty County Development Authority.
Ann Purcell, who represents the First Congressional District on the state Department of Transportation Board and was recently elected to chair the board, said, “It’s the best day of my life when I can see a project of this size completed with a partnership like this.”
She said MCRAWAAF is one of the largest state airport development projects she has seen. She pointed out that the $15 million expansion was funded with $3.2 in local money. “An airport is a front door for a community,” she said.
Parker can be emailed at email@example.com.