AOPA is stepping up efforts to protect Albert Whitted Municipal Airport (SPG), located on the bay in St. Petersburg, Fla., from renewed attack. A well-financed vocal minority of anti-airport activists have forced an initiative onto this November's ballot demanding that the city close the airport and turn at least half of it into a park by 2011, 10 years earlier than obligations to the FAA would allow.
"AOPA has been involved in the fight to keep Albert Whitted open for years, winning many battles in the past," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "But as the issue comes to a head on this November's ballot, we're bringing the full weight of AOPA's considerable experience in protecting local airports to bear." Just last week, Boyer and AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn traveled to St. Petersburg to meet with airport advocates and discuss strategies and how AOPA could support their efforts.
Over the weekend, local airport supporters published an advertisement charging that the money behind the anti-airport activists comes from developers who want do build high-rise condominiums on the non-park half of the airport property.
Officially, the airport opponents' main argument is that when the city accepted an FAA grant and the 20-year obligation that goes with it to keep the airport open, the city violated its charter that prohibits any lease obligation of more than 10 years without voter approval. Airport supporters and the FAA say the city willingly and knowingly accepted the grant, and that federal obligations do not constitute a lease. The FAA has indicated it has no intention of permitting St. Petersburg to pay off the grant for this critical airport early.
So St. Petersburg voters are faced with three ballot initiatives regarding Albert Whitted—two for the airport and one against.
"Once an airport is closed, it's gone for good. Closed airports virtually never reopen," said Boyer. "St. Petersburg already has over 2,400 acres of parks but only one airport. Albert Whitted generates over $8 million in economic activity every year. Park proponents' short-sighted efforts would not only set up an expensive court battle with the FAA, which the city would lose, it would deny St. Petersburg a potent economic engine and critical access point to the national air transportation system."