Florida's Martin County is prohibited from closing Witham Field (SUA) in Stuart, Fla., warned AOPA, adding the association will fight any attempt to move or downsize the airport. The warning comes as county commissioners prepare to discuss a report on the future of the airport—a report that considers only three options: downsizing, relocation, or outright closure.
In a letter to Martin County Commission Chairman Michael DiTerlizzi, AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn said AOPA and the FAA will win in a fight to keep Witham Field open because the county accepted federal airport improvement funds, which come with airtight grant obligations.
"One of the key obligations is to keep the airport open for a period of 20 years from the grant date. In the case of Witham Field, our records indicate a 2002 FAA grant in the amount of $673,064, meaning the airport must remain open as an airport until at least the year 2022," Dunn wrote.
"Calls to close or restrict an airport are often fueled by a handful of people in areas surrounding the airport for a myriad of reasons," Dunn continued. "Political pressure on elected officials like you increases as misinformation campaigns concerning the airport takes hold. It is our opinion that this is exactly what is occurring in Martin County. A handful of area residents have embarked on a quest and misinformation abounds."
The primary complaint at Witham Field has been noise. The Martin County Commission has begun a Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 150 noise compatibility study, a point noted in Dunn's letter. "Martin County is to be commended for taking the initiative. Implementation of any approved mitigation measures, if necessary, is a step in the right direction."
Dunn concluded by pointing out that Witham Field is a vital part not only of Florida's transportation system, but of the national transportation system as well. "We encourage Martin County to support unequivocally this key general aviation economic engine. AOPA is committed to ensuring the continued operation of Witham Field without undue and unnecessary restrictions."