The ball has been volleyed back onto the city’s side of the court as the aviation division of the U.S. Department of Transportation has stated that “the agency will not consider closing St. Clair Regional Airport ... until the city corrects deficiencies at the airport.”
However, state Rep. Dave Hinson, who also received a copy of the letter, called The Missourian on Thursday afternoon specifically to say that the USDOT letter does not mean the airport will remain open.
The letter sent to Mayor Ron Blum was dated Dec. 28, 2012. City officials received and reviewed it on Thursday.
In late August, Blum sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration specifically asking that it allow closure of the 80-acre facility on the city’s north side. Closing the airport has been at the top of the mayor’s priority list since he first took office in 2007.
Blum’s letter asked for a decision by Thanksgiving.
The “corrective action” outlined by the U.S. Department of Transportation 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 USDOT letter stated that future discussions will be limited to issues related to the city completing the steps detailed in the letter.
Both Blum and City Administrator Rick Childers said the issue will be brought before the board of aldermen when it meets on Monday in city hall.
“We will discuss this with the board and proceed as directed,” Childers said.
The officials also said the items have been addressed with documentation already sent to the FAA.
Hinson, who serves the 119th District which includes St. Clair, told The Missourian on Thursday afternoon that the closure decision has not been made.
“There has been nothing from the FAA or MoDOT (Missouri Department of Transportation) either way,” Hinson said. “This (USDOT) letter is in generic speak. It doesn’t give specifics. I have not received specifics. ... The city needs specifics.”
Blum and Childers agreed.
“Everything sent to us asking us to do something is gray and vague,” the mayor told The Missourian on Thursday morning. “It’s never very specific.
“Nothing really has changed,” Blum said in regard to the letter. “This is nothing new.”
Hinson said a decision has not been made about closure because the request still is being reviewed.
“I’ve been in talks and have been reassured by people from (U.S. Rep. Blaine) Luetkemeyer’s office and MoDOT that the formal (closure) process still is being reviewed.”
Hinson said the FAA wants MoDOT to make a recommendation on closure.
“The FAA has punted back to MoDOT,” he said. “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.”
The final 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.”
Permission to close the facility between Interstate 44 and Highway 47 must be granted by the FAA because the city obtained and used grants, the latest in 2006, to make improvements on the 80-acre facility. The city wants to close the airport so the land can be used for much-needed retail development.
If that retail expansion does not happen, Blum said the city may face financial hardships.
“We’ve done very well to date with our finances,” Blum said. “Much of that has been through the attrition of employees. But what’s going to happen if this continues and if we can’t grow our revenue base is that we will have to start thinking about cutting more into our employee base, including police and parks, and have other things like street repairs suffer.”
The situation is leaving Blum extremely frustrated.
“The pilots are saying that the airport is more important than the city itself and our community,” he said. “And it looks like they’re trying to get other people to concur. This is getting to the point where I believe the tenants don’t care about the city or its residents.”
“All they care about is winning,” Childers said.
“You can quote that,” Blum said.
None of the tenants who rent hangar space at the airport live in St. Clair.
“Theoretically, these tenants could keep filing complaints to the FAA to eternity,” Childers said. “What this is coming down to is if you own a property in the city and that property has fallen into disrepair and you filed for permission to demolish it, the city has said it will allow you to demolish it if you fix it up nice and pretty first.
“Here, we have to fix everything to the satisfaction of the tenants who will be evicted with closure.”
“That’s what this letter says,” Blum said.