A bill that would close the St. Clair Regional Airport is on the taxiway waiting to take off.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill filed Bill No. 2759 during the 113th session of Congress on July 31. It was cosponsored by Missouri’s other U.S. senator, Roy Blunt.
“If this passes, and there is no guarantee that it will, it’s a win for St. Clair and a win for aviation in general,” St. Clair Mayor Ron Blum told The Missourian on Friday morning. “Funding is tight for everyone. Allowing us to close our airport will allow us to work on bringing in some much-needed retail development. It also will benefit the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and MoDOT (Missouri Department of Transportation) because it will mean one less airport for them to worry about as far as funding.
“I think it’s a good deal all the way around.”
The stand-alone bill was introduced and referred to the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
If it gets out of that committee, it will be voted on by the full Senate. That would be followed by a vote by the House of Representatives.
The final step would be the signature of President Barack Obama.
“It’s moving in a good direction,” City Administrator Rick Childers said.
Congress currently is in its summer recess. It is expected to return to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 8.
The timetable for any potential movement of the airport closure bill is unknown.
Even though the bill was filed on July 31, Childers said the city only found out about it earlier this week. He said a communication breakdown was the reason.
“I think everyone is trying to do all they can to help us through this,” Blum said. “On behalf of the community, I thank everyone for their help.”
The bill’s opening paragraph states: “To release the city of St. Clair, Mo., from all restrictions, conditions and limitations on the use, encumbrance, conveyance and closure of the St. Clair Regional Airport.”
It goes on to give some details regarding the closure process and the transfer of assets, revenues and equipment as well as the monetary value of the property and the worth of the unamortized federal grants turned over to MoDOT and the FAA.
About a year ago, an amendment attached to a U.S. Transportation Bill allowed for closure of the airport, but it died after no action was taken on it.
Blunt and McCaskill cosponsored Amendment 1801 which was worded almost identically to this year’s bill.
Blunt Press Secretary Genny Carter told The Missourian at the time that the amendment was offered, but “never made pending and never voted on before the THUD (Transportation, Housing and Urban Development) bill had cloture filed.”
“The cloture vote failed and consideration of the bill itself was stopped,” Carter said. “So the amendment is filed, but no action was taken on it.”
St. Clair has been trying to close the airport located on about 80 acres on the north side of the city for several years. It needs permission from the FAA because federal grants were obtained for improvements to the facility as late as 2006.
City officials have been going back and forth with FAA and MoDOT officials on the closure process.
In May, after two years and several decision deadline extensions, the FAA ruled the city of St. Clair was not in violation of its federal obligations in regards to its regional airport as alleged in a complaint filed by one of the tenants.
The complaint, filed by airport tenant Jim DeVries of Pacific on behalf of himself and other current and former tenants, was dismissed.
A letter dated May 20 was sent to DeVries, who filed the complaint with the FAA in May 2012, and to City Attorney Kurt Voss. A copy was forwarded to the city’s administration and to The Missourian.
In theory, the dismissal means the FAA can work toward making a decision on St. Clair’s request to close the airport. However, the Senate bill could supersede any FAA decision if it makes its way to Obama and he signs it.
The complaint alleged “noncompliance by the city of St. Clair Regional Airport, the sponsor of the airport, of its obligations under federal law applicable to the operation of an airport.”