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LifeStar in a holding pattern
County delays action
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The LifeStar air ambulance still isn’t cleared for landing at a new home in Effingham County.

County commissioners tabled a lease agreement with OmniFlight Helicopters, the Addison, Texas-based company that operates the LifeStar service, last Tuesday. Commissioners are expected to revisit the issue Nov. 18, but some are getting antsy that the delay may mean Effingham will lose out on landing the service.

“We need to make a decision at the next meeting,” Commissioner Reggie Loper said. “We don’t need to hang them out any longer.”

Commissioner Jeff Utley, who with Loper has broached the idea of bringing the helicopter, its crew and its support staff to Effingham, also worried that the longer Effingham waits to make a deal with OmniFlight will open the door for other communities.

“Bryan County and other places are looking at it,” he said. “It’s an asset wherever it is.”

The county and LifeStar have been talking about making Effingham the helicopter’s home for more than a year.

LifeStar was pushed out of its home at Memorial Health Medical Center when the Savannah hospital said it needed the room.

It’s now at the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport, but that’s not a perfect solution either, according to Utley.

“Anytime a commercial flight is in the air, they can’t fly,” he said.

But Commissioner Hubert Sapp fretted about how much money the county would be asked to spend to land LifeStar.

“If it was beneficial for Memorial, why would they not find them a suitable site?” he asked. “How many other private businesses are we setting up? How far is this going to go, us sponsoring private entities?”

County staff is expected to re-work a deal with OmniFlight that included 10,000-gallon fuel tank, offices and living quarters for the crew, a 2,500 square foot landing pad and pad covering. The offices and living quarters building would be shared with the county emergency medical services, with the county’s cost to construct the facilities needed pegged at $308,000.

OmniFlight would pay a 20-cent per gallon fuel surcharge and $1,000 a month in rent under a five-year lease. The county also is factoring in contributions from the Effingham Hospital and the Effingham Industrial Development Authority at $25,000 each.

“I think it is a good service,” county project manager Adam Kobek said. “I think it’s going to be an economic development tool.”

Utley pointed out that most of the LifeStar crew live in Effingham already, and commission Chairperson Myra Lewis said there are some things that can’t be figured into the equation.

“How do you value a person’s life?” she said.

A new building that would house EMS also would open up space in the county administrative complex, Lewis noted.

“There are a lot of pros for bringing (LifeStar) here,” she said.

Said Commissioner Verna Phillips: “If it’s me, I want it here.”

LifeStar averages about 40 flights a month and burns 45,000 gallons of fuel a year, County Administrator David Crawley said.

Commissioners directed staff to ask LifeStar about a 10-year lease and about adding a buyback clause.

“They need to give us some kind of reassurance,” Phillips said.