Mayor's airport-closure bid could cost millions

August 1, 2012

The city of St. Clair, Mo., would face an extended, expensive task if the mayor opts to pursue his four-year campaign to close the regional airport, AOPA told officials at a meeting July 31.

“The city entered into federal agreements to operate the airport, and we expect the city to honor them,” said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airport advocacy.

Millions of dollars raised from local taxpayers would have to be expended on environmental impact review, possible mitigation projects, and other expenses—with no assurance that the FAA will approve closing St. Clair Regional Airport, said Dunn in a meeting with St .Clair Mayor Ron Blum, City Manager Rick Childers, local pilots, and staff representatives from U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), and Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). A municipal consultant also attended by phone.

The FAA requested that the city officials conduct the meeting in recognition of local pilots’ and AOPA’s role as general aviation stakeholders and defenders of the airport. Last March, after meeting with FAA officials in Washington, D.C., Blum declared that the city “had a path” for closing the airport, according to a local news report.

Dunn told the mayor that the FAA must weigh the decision based on a criterion of whether closure would benefit civil aviation.

“I also told the city that before closing the airport, they would have to pay for all improvements at other airports that are associated with that requirement,” Dunn said.

Airport generated jobs

“I reminded them that before they undertook its closure, this airport was once vibrant, growing, and generating jobs, but the city has and continues to create an anti-airport environment that has stifled new business coming to the area,” he said.

That policy, he said, was in contrast to the municipality’s motto, “We’re open for business.”

Dunn noted during the meeting that local officials “should not expect any quick answers” from the FAA. “I told them that we would work with FAA to ensure that all federal laws and policies are followed during the closure evaluation, and that we would continue to oppose the closure.”

He also pointed out that revenue generated by the airport could not be used to finance exploration of its closure.

AOPA is committed to protecting airports from forced closures, and has worked to keep St. Clair Regional Airport open since 2008, when Blum first disclosed his plans to study shutting it down. The mayor pursued that policy despite the airport having accepted federal grant funding contracts that obligated it to remain in operation for a minimum of 20 years.

After the July 31 meeting—at which Blum conceded to Dunn that there was no specific buyer for the airport property—Dunn pointed out that vacant, boarded-up properties adjacent to the airport could be developed without embarking on a protracted and possibly futile airport-closure campaign.

“AOPA is committed to keeping St. Clair Regional Airport operating and restoring its status as an economic engine for the region,” he said.