St. Clair Mayor Ron Blum and City Administrator Rick Childers are encouraged about the news they received from the Missouri Department of Transportation late last week saying that the agency will not stand in the way of the city and its quest to close the St. Clair Regional Airport.
Interim Director David B. Nichols sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration on Friday stating that “because the city has made its desire clear, MoDOT will not oppose the city’s request to close the airport.”
“This is a big piece of the puzzle,” Blum told The Missourian shortly after he received a copy of the letter. “It’s a significant positive step, and it’s very encouraging.”
St. Clair’s administration has been trying to close the airport located on about 80 acres of land on the city’s north side for several years. Permission needs to be granted by the FAA because the city obtained federal grant monies for improvements at the facility.
Blum has met with both MoDOT and FAA officials several times, and the city is working with both agencies in completing the steps to obtain closure.
“In light of the economic challenges in our country today, this is a positive step for small communities like St. Clair to help resolve the difficulties in producing revenue while also helping our country, our state and even aviation in general.”
Blum repeatedly has said his goal is to close the facility and use the land for retail development.
The MoDOT letter was sent by Nichols to Jim Johnson, Airports Division manager of the FAA’s Central Region in Kansas City. After it makes the statement about not opposing the city’s request to close the airport, Nichols states, “However, all federal airport closure requirements must be met by the city.”
As correspondence between the city and the FAA has gone back and forth for some time, in late December, the federal agency sent the city a letter stating that “the agency will not consider closing St. Clair Regional Airport ... until the city corrects deficiencies at the airport.”
That letter came as a response to a letter Blum sent the FAA in August specifically asking that it allow closure of the facility. Blum’s letter asked for a decision by Thanksgiving.
The “corrective action” outlined by the FAA in its Dec. 28 letter lists items that include making adequate repairs at the facility, addressing operational and financial issues and resolving complaints regarding the increase in tenant rental fees. The conclusion of the letter stated that future discussions will be limited to issues related to the city completing the steps detailed in the letter.
The city has addressed those issues, and Childers told The Missourian on Friday that he is almost ready to send correspondence back to the FAA stating that everything has been done that the FAA has asked. He said he plans to contact the FAA by the end of the month.
“I’m working on sending all of that information to the FAA,” Childers said. “It will say that all of their points have been addressed.”
State Rep. Dave Hinson, who represents the 119th District that includes St. Clair, has said the FAA wants MoDOT to make a recommendation on closure.
“The FAA has punted back to MoDOT,” he said in January. “MoDOT technically is the FAA in Missouri so everything should be going through them. The FAA has told MoDOT to make a decision, and I know MoDOT is working on it. I’m just not sure where they’re at as I have not received information either way.”
When asked if he supports closure of the facility or not, Hinson said, “I know the overwhelming majority of the community would like to see it (airport) closed and the space used for development. I have told the FAA and MoDOT Aviation that, and I believe that is true.”
Hinson did not answer recent emails sent to him regarding this new development.
Blum also has said that the FAA has been looking for a recommendation from the state agency.
“When I spoke with Catherine Lang (of the FAA) when I went to Washington (in 2012), she said because Missouri is a block grant state she needs a recommendation from MoDOT for closure before the FAA will consider closure,” the mayor said. “MoDOT’s letter is a significant development.”
But, the city officials remain cautious.
“No doubt this is another positive step,” Childers said. “But, we need to make sure everyone understands that even though it’s a positive step the fight is not over. We certainly need to keep fighting and working toward our goal of closure.”
The most recent St. Clair Regional Airport narrative analysis sent by city officials to the FAA in August stated that “the city of St. Clair once again requests release from all past grant obligations, subject to a requirement to repay the unamortized portion of such grants, and requests closure of St. Clair Regional Airport and authorization to sell the land by sealed bid, subject to a requirement that all proceeds from said sale be provided for disbursement at the direction of the Federal Aviation Administration.”
Copies of Nichols’ letter were sent to Missouri’s congressional delegation as well as to Ed Hassinger of MoDOT.
St. Clair’s airport has operated in the red for years. The city has been forced to subsidize its operation by moving monies out of its general fund.