Wednesday, November 09, 2011

FAA Sends City Next Steps: Local Officials to Respond to Airport Closure Letter. St Clair Regional Airport (K39), St Clair, Missouri.

City officials plan to respond later this month to the latest letter received from the Federal Aviation Administration regarding the requested closure of the St. Clair Regional Airport. Mayor Ron Blum received the letter from FAA Airport Compliance Manager Kevin Willis last month listing "the next steps the city of St. Clair needs to take."

Blum and City Administrator Rick Childers already are working on many of the points listed in the FAA letter. They met with other regional airport representatives as well as with local and area pilots in October in an effort to discover what their respective wish lists are if monies would become available to assist them through the sale of the airport land.

St. Clair wants to close its airport located on the north side of town along the Interstate 44 corridor off of Highway 47 to make way for proposed retail development. The process, which has lasted more than three years, has included meetings with local pilots and the public, formulating a plan and putting together a 200-page document that outlines the city's viewpoint in stating its case.

"We're focusing on trying to get answers to our straightforward questions," Childers told The Missourian about working with the FAA. "We also want to discuss the FAA's interpretation of its own rules."

Points of Emphasis

Willis' letter lists eight points:

•The city's request for a release must demonstrate how the airport closure will provide a benefit to civil aviation, not just a benefit to St. Clair.

•The city's request for a release needs to show how the airport assets - including the fair market value proceeds from the sale of this airport - along with the unamortized grant funds, will be transferred to another airport in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems located in the vicinity of the St. Clair Regional Airport. The city's request should show how the receiving airport will use the new assets to enhance civil aviation. The city's request should identify what specific improvements will be made, what services will be enhanced, what hangars will be built and how the current airport tenants will be accommodated as a result of this transfer of assets.

•The unamortized portion of the Airport Improvement Program funds must be available for eligible AIP projects subject to approval by the Central Regional office.

•The city must provide an independent appraisal of the fair market value of the property at the highest and best commercial use satisfactory to the FAA.

•The city must complete appropriate environmental review in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act addressing the effects of closing this airport.

•The city must prepare a draft request for proposal solely for the sale of the land.

•After the previous steps have been completed to the satisfaction of the FAA, the associated administrator for airports will make an agency decision. If the agency decision permits the sale of the airport, the sale must take place through an open, competitive bidding process. The FAA will review the bids.

•If the airport is sold, there will be a property settlement, transfer of assets and deed of release. The sale proceeds must be placed in escrow at the time of closing.

•After settlement, the city must consent to publication in the Federal Register of a 30-day advance public notice announcing the closing of the airport. The FAA would publish this notice.

"There is some unclarity in the letter," Childers said. "The bottom line overarching question is why should the FAA, as a federal agency responsible for providing funding for the benefit of aviation, ask a municipality with an underachieving airport where the money should go? That's what they're supposed to do. They have the expertise. We'll do it, and they can nitpick until the end of time, but we don't want to be backed into a corner. We won't keep still about this."

There also was a note included in the letter that states the city may not use the proceeds from the sale of the airport property to repay the unamortized AIP grant funds.

"That's not right," Childers said.

The city already has two airport land appraisals, and they were included in the 200-page document sent to the FAA during the summer.


Childers, Blum and QED Airport Aviation Consultant Ron Price, retained by the city to help in its closure request, met with regional and national FAA officials in August. At that time, they discussed how closing the local facility would benefit aviation. St. Clair's administration has contested that closing the facility would be a plus for aviation in part because any federal funds potentially available locally could be used elsewhere for airport improvements.

City officials also have said there are enough adequate airports in the vicinity, including Washington, Sullivan, Cuba and Washington County. That information is included in the 200-page document Price and the city prepared and sent to the FAA and to several state and local officials.

Price's assessment includes the rationale for the city to be released from its federal obligations. The release is necessary because the local facility has received grants for airport improvements, the last coming in 2006. The grants totaled about $750,000. The amount in question to be repaid is about $450,000.

The closure document states that the city "is uncontested" to its obligation about the requirement to pay back the funds. Local officials believe, however, they should be able to use monies from the sale of the airport land to do so.

The FAA officials also outlined their position and intent during the August gathering, with Blum and Childers saying that the federal officials said the FAA is not in the business of closing airports and that there is a specific process to follow when requesting to do so.

The city is attempting to follow that process.

That meeting at the FAA Regional Office in Kansas City was one of the recent steps the city took in its quest. In October, it also conducted a meeting with Washington, Sullivan and Cuba airport representatives.

During that meeting, Price asked representatives from the nearby airports to come up with a plan on how the money from the sale of the airport as well as the funds that St. Clair has to repay the FAA can be redistributed in the region. Proposals from the other airports are due to St. Clair by Friday, Nov. 11.

Price said if the grant money is redistributed to neighboring airports, it could fund 95-100 percent of their proposed improvement projects.

Childers said he estimates about $2.5 million would be available to be redistributed among the airports, but Blum said that amount may change depending on the final sale price of the airport land.

During a separate meeting in October, pilots who house their planes at the St. Clair Regional Airport asked that nearby airports consider their needs.

Currently, about 10 pilots keep their planes at St. Clair's airport. None of the pilots at the airport reside in St. Clair.

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