Missouri Speaker of the House Tim Jones, R-Eureka, who has used St. Clair Regional Airport tenant Jim DeVries as his personal pilot, said he wants to keep the local airport open so there is “access to a community.”
Press Secretary Tom Smith recently answered questions directed to Jones by The Missourian regarding the airport.
“The speaker supports all modes of transportation,” Smith said, adding that the 110th District representative thinks it is key to be able to keep people moving “in and out” of a community.
The 110th District includes Pacific, where DeVries resides, as well as other portions of Franklin and St. Louis counties.
It does not include St. Clair.
When specifically asked if keeping the facility on the north side of St. Clair open to accommodate the four tenants who rent space there is more important than closing it to make way for economic development in the financially strapped city to boost its tax revenue, Smith said, “Transportation is key.”
“You need to keep access to a community open,” Smith said.
Because there are only four tenants currently at the airport, traffic at the facility is minimal.
DeVries, who maintains an online blog focusing on the St. Clair airport, has said that Jones has sided with him regarding the airport.
“The congressman stated that he wants to see the airport stay open,” an April 9 blog post reads.
Jones is a state representative and not a congressman.
St. Clair leaders have been working with other members of the Legislature and with U.S. Sens. Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt to get permission from the FAA to close the airport.
DeVries said meetings have taken place in recent weeks at the airport, with another one scheduled for April 26. He said that Jones will attend.
“Anyone that wants to get a clear picture of the airport situation is welcome to attend,” he said on his blog.
According to the city, that “situation” is that the 80-acre parcel of land that houses the airport, located within the Interstate 44-Highway 47 corridor, needs to close to make room for much-needed retail development in the city. Permission needs to be granted by the Federal Aviation Administration because St. Clair obtained and used grants for airport improvements, as late as 2006.
City officials have been corresponding back and forth with FAA and Missouri Department of Transportation officials for years regarding the issue. Officials from MoDOT have said they do not oppose closure.
Before the FAA can decide on the airport closure issue, however, it first must rule on a complaint filed by DeVries on behalf of himself and current and former tenants of the facility. None of the tenants live in St. Clair.
The complaint was filed in spring 2012, and the FAA has granted itself eight extensions to make a decision. The latest was earlier this month.
The complaint, officially titled a “14 C.F.R. Part 16,” was sent to FAA personnel and alleges “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.”
Closing the airport has been a priority of Mayor Ron Blum and his administration since he took office in 2007. According to the FAA, it won’t consider closing the airport until the Part 16 complaint is resolved.
DeVries recently also has asked the FAA for a 120-day extension before it makes a ruling on his complaint. He said the extension is necessary “in order to amend the original complaint.”
No specifics were listed.
In turn, city officials filed an official objection with the FAA against DeVries’ request.
“Complainants’ request for extension of time fails to set forth a single fact or event that has transpired since the complaint was filed necessitating this request for additional time,” the city’s objection reads.
During Monday’s board of alderman meeting, City Attorney Kurt Voss said the FAA currently is looking at DeVries’ extension request and has asked the city for a response.
Voss said the FAA has not made a decision on the extension yet.
“The matter is before the FAA,” he said. “They will decide whether to grant any additional time or not.”
Smith said Jones has hired DeVries fly him to various functions around the state, but emphasized that the trips are not being paid for by taxpayers.
“He pays for the trips out of his own pocket,” Smith said, adding that the congressman does not have a large enough travel budget to hire pilots.
Emails have been sent to DeVries seeking comment. He did not respond.