Republican candidates seeking to become Franklin County’s next Second District commissioner said they would support the city’s efforts to close the St. Clair Regional Airport.
St. Clair officials have been working to close the facility between Interstate 44 and Highway 47 on the north side of the city for years, and need approval from the Federal Aviation Administration because federal grants were obtained and used for airport improvements, the last coming in 2006.
Ongoing discussions have been taking place between Mayor Ron Blum, City Administrator Rick Childers and FAA officials in Washington, D.C., for months, but no decision has been made.
When directly asked about their stance on St. Clair’s efforts to close the facility both at a candidate forum on July 25 sponsored by the St. Clair Area Chamber of Commerce as well as by The Missourian, support was directed the local officials’ way.
The Second District includes St. Clair, as well as Sullivan, Union and surrounding areas.
The five GOP candidates seeking the Second District county commission in the Aug. 7 primary are Jerry Landing of Sullivan, Ted Diez of Union, Mike Schatz of Sullivan, Mark Falloon of Sullivan and Gary Young of Union.
“My view has never changed,” said Landing, who also is a pilot. “I believe this airport is costing the city a lot of money for an elite few. If the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) allows it to close, it should close.
“The fact is that general aviation is almost a thing of the past due to the economy,” Landing said. “I see the airport as a burden to the city. I would back the city administration to help close the airport as long as it is making way for more industry.”
“My dad used to own a plane, and we flew in and out of St. Clair all the time. He kept it in St. Clair,” Diez told The Missourian. “I’m an aviation enthusiast, but I’m in favor of doing whatever we can to move the closure process along. Right now, our people need jobs.
“If push comes to shove, I will back the city’s efforts to close the airport down.”
Schatz had a similar opinion.
“If the city wants to close it, I support that decision,” he said. “If they decide to retain it, so be it. There are two other regional airports in the area that can be used.
“I believe it is a matter of economics,” Schatz said. “If the airport is not bringing in revenue, is costing the city money and there is a better use for the property as far as generating revenue, in my personal opinion it should be closed. Regarding the actual closure I believe that is the responsibility of the city to make that decision.”
Falloon took the matter a little further.
“If the economy is not bringing in money, the airport should be put to better use,” he said. “The economic downturn is affecting all of us, and you can’t put good money out for bad.
“The ongoing costs associated with maintaining an airport can be expensive and never-ending for a municipality even when monies are received from the federal and state governments. With two other existing regional airports (Sullivan and Washington) to serve Franklin County and their sponsoring communities, the decision to retain or to close the St. Clair airport is a local question best answered by the city officials after their due diligence and deliberation.
“Once city officials have decided closure is in the best interests of the city, then I would support that decision and assist in its closure. The air transportation interests of the county as a whole will then be served by the two remaining regional airports.”
Young answered the question in a similar way.
“If St. Clair decides they need to close it, we need to support it,” he said. “If closing it is in the best interests of St. Clair, I support it.”
Young did state that his one concern is emergency-related, saying that if flooding would affect Washington’s or Sullivan’s airports and if St. Clair’s facility was closed, what would the emergency plan be?
City officials have stated that the Air-Evac Lifeteam emergency air ambulance operations will remain at the site regardless of what happens.