Fitting in the category of the one that didnt get away, Columbia County lawmakers can rightly brag about landing a bill on the last day of Georgias legislative session to begin a study of air travel in the area.
Specifically, the study committee - first discussed on these pages in February - will examine ways to improve the Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport so the facility can attract more travel from business executives.
McDuffie is far more convenient to Columbia Countys industrial complexes than are Augustas two airports. State Rep. Ben Harbin and state Sen. Joey Brush recognize the facilitys importance - not just to Columbia County, which has no airstrip - but to the small counties surrounding McDuffie.
And, especially, the lawmakers recognize the importance of economic development and the spark that a regional airport can provide.
Wed like to create a truly regional airport that can be used by all the surrounding counties, says Charlie Newton, chairman of the McDuffie County Commission and a key supporter of the study.
Partisan, election-year politics put clamps on most legislation this year, making it all the more remarkable that Brush and Harbin were able to pass the long-awaited bill to study the airports future.
With 17 members drawn from surrounding cities and counties, the study committee runs the risk of being unwieldy. And early on its agenda will be finding ways to get enough money - estimated as high as $5 million - to realize the ambitious visions for the facility.
The study, though, is a good first step. Not only will it demonstrate the enormous potential the airport holds in boosting economic development in the hinterlands outside Augusta, but it will document the population numbers necessary to attract federal assistance.
A few years from now, we may well wonder how we ever got along without it.
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