In an all-too-familiar story a group of wealthy residents has built multimillion-dollar homes in close proximity to the Stuart, Florida, community airport, Witham Field (SUA). And now those residents want to curtail activity at the airport that has helped their community prosper for more than 50 years.
AOPA is joining the fray in support of the airport with a series of ads in local newspapers beginning Sunday. The ads are open letters from AOPA President Phil Boyer to Martin County residents and remind voters that the airport: (1) does not represent a threat; (2) is responsible for much of the area's growth and desirability; and (3) could serve as a staging area for disaster relief, exactly as Lakeland Linder Field to the south is doing so effectively in the wake of Hurricane Charley.
The ads are designed to combat a mishmash of misinformation and scare tactics being used by an organization called WAAM (Witham Airport Action Majority) in its efforts to replace several Martin County commissioners with its anti-airport cronies in the August 31 election. WAAM's Web site contains a treasure-trove of skewed statistics and fabricated concerns designed to alarm area residents and turn the election into a one-issue event.
AOPA isn't the only group fighting WAAM's misinformation. Another local group, Martin County Majority (MCM), has staged an effective campaign to debunk the myths. Its Web site also points out the extensive voluntary measures that pilots are taking to follow AOPA's "Fly Friendly" guidelines and minimize the noise - including restricting touch and goes and night flights.
As MCM points out, WAAM doesn't represent a majority at all. In fact 85% of the complaints about the airport have come from less than 0.00003% of the population. In fact, in a July 2003 poll by the local paper, 81.7% of the respondents said they didn't want any changes to Witham Field.
Something WAAM is also choosing to ignore is the fact that, since 1985, the federal government has invested $3.9 million in Stuart's airport. These grants come with a commitment to run an airport as an airport for 20 years. Witham Field's last grant was in 2002. It generally requires an act of Congress to forgive a grant obligation, a costly and time-consuming effort. Operating an airport without these grants would be yet another blow to the Martin County coffers.
August 20, 2004