Even though he accompanied Mayor Ron Blum to Washington, D.C., and attended a meeting with Federal Aviation Administration officials about the potential closure of the St. Clair Regional Airport, state Rep. Dave Hinson said he is not taking an official stance on the issue.
“It’s not really for me to give an opinion about it,” Hinson told The Missourian during a recent interview. “It’s totally up to the residents to support it. It’s not a state issue.
“I’m not saying that it’s either right or wrong.”
The state representative did elaborate on his position a little further.
“As far as me taking sides, I have not taken one,” Hinson said. “But if the city of St. Clair wants this and is taking the proper steps, it’s not up to me to throw up roadblocks.”
Hinson told The Missourian he wanted to attend the March 28 meeting in the nation’s capital with Blum and the FAA “to make it clearer what the FAA is looking at and the process it wants.
“I’m glad I attended (the meeting) so I could hear from the FAA and get some answers.”
Hinson, a Republican who represents the 98th district — which includes St. Clair, Lonedell, Union and Villa Ridge — said, “All I’m doing is trying to get as many facts on this as I can.
“It started at the local level and should be decided at the local level,” he said. “I’m not trying to dodge the question. It’s just not for me to say.”
Hinson did say he believes the FAA will ask the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division to take a stance on the closure issue.
“I’ve been in contact with MoDOT Aviation, and their original comments to me were that they were neutral on this,” Hinson said. “Catherine Lang (FAA deputy associate administrator for airports) said that is not acceptable. She said the FAA is looking at MoDOT Aviation to issue a decision and deliver it to them.”
Lang was one of the key players involved in the March 28 meeting in Washington, D.C., between the city and the FAA. She has not been able to be reached for comment.
“The FAA looks at MoDOT Aviation as the FAA’s arm in Missouri,” Hinson said. “They (FAA) would like MoDOT to issue a decision and deliver it to the FAA.”
Hinson said MoDOT Aviation, however, believes “it’s totally out of the loop” because all it did was provide and process the federal grants the city has used in the past to improve the local airport.
Because the city has used those federal grants in the past, as late as 2006, the FAA must give permission for closure.
Amy Ludwig, MoDOT Aviation’s administrator, gave a brief comment about the situation when contacted by The Missourian.
“We have been involved with this matter since the city of St. Clair first began this process,” she said. “We continue to work with the city and the FAA to reach a resolution regarding the city’s request. This is an ongoing process.”
Hinson did say he believes St. Clair is following the correct procedures in its quest to close the airport.
“Whatever the FAA has asked the city to do, it has done,” he said. They’re working through the process toward the city’s ultimate goal.”
And, the goal is closure of the airport.
“The mayor (Blum) is accurate in that the FAA seems to be leading him on a path toward closure,” the state representative said. “I think there is a path. The city needs to follow the steps to the satisfaction of the FAA. But from what I’ve gathered from the FAA, the city is following the right steps.”
But, Hinson said the city needs to continue proceeding with its efforts properly.
“Whatever the FAA asks for, the city better provide. The city needs to continue to follow the process in order to proceed forward. If the city follows the four steps to the satisfaction of the FAA, that will help with the determination of closure.”
The four steps are getting a third appraisal done on the 80-acre property according to FAA specifications to gain a true value of the property at its highest and best use, providing a more complete explanation of what the net benefit to aviation will be by closing the facility, providing a history of the airport itself and noting why it has been lagging financially compared to other airports, and answering why the city has not had the financial resources to fund the airport.
Currently, the city is working on the appraisal.
“I think the biggest hurdle in all of these is the appraisal,” Hinson said. “But it’s my understanding that if the FAA says it’s good with the first step, then we’ll go to step 2, then step 3 and then step 4. So I really don’t think we’ll deal with step 2 until step 1 is done.
“The city will come up with this new appraisal and the fair market value to satisfy the FAA.”
Hinson also is hopeful the FAA has a true reason for the city to take the steps.
“Since the FAA is telling the city to take these steps, that there is a path for closure, then the FAA should follow through,” he said. “I don’t think they would send them down this path if the closure answer was no. If the decision is no, the city should be told that.
“The easiest decision would have been for the FAA to say no, but they didn’t say that. So, we’ll see what happens.
“But, I would like to know if the city has a plan B.”
Hinson said since he was born and raised in the St. Clair area, he knows some of the details of the facility, and he shared that with the FAA.
Hinson also said he knows that when Blum first was elected mayor in 2007, and re-elected in 2009 and 2011, closing the airport was high on his priority list.
“As far as the campaign Blum ran on, he ran on bringing retail and economic development to the city and on closing the airport,” Hinson said. “I heard that time and time again.”
However, one thing Hinson said he personally has not heard is opinions from local citizens on the airport closure issue, other than from some of the airport tenants.
“I don’t have residents calling me about the airport,” he said. “I really don’t have anyone asking me about it either way.”
However, Hinson said he believes there is “a lot of misinformation coming from tenants” who rent hangar space at the St. Clair Regional Airport.
The representative said he feels some of the tenants are “frustrated” and because of that “they are putting out a lot of misinformation.”
Hinson specifically mentioned one tenant — Jim DeVries of Pacific. DeVries has been the most vocal of the small number of individuals who have voiced opposition to St. Clair’s closing the facility to make room for the proposed retail development.
“I’ve received calls from Jim DeVries,” Hinson told The Missourian. “I’ve had conversations with him. When the FAA told the mayor (Blum) that there was a path for closure, it didn’t make him very happy. He wanted a no to closure, so what was said didn’t help his cause.
“Now, there is a lot of misinformation coming from some of the tenants.”
Through the process, Hinson said his goal is to help the citizens he represents.
“Actually, it’s the taxpayers who are on the hook here,” he said. “Whatever decision is made, it better be to benefit the taxpayers. That’s what I was sent to my office to do — to do what’s best for the citizens and be responsible with our tax dollars.”