WAAM President urges immediate public comment before tomorrow’s vote on airport customs facility

Witham Airport Action Majority (WAAM) advocate David Shore, outlined concerns regarding the customs facility project proposed for Witham Field:

Why such short notice? It seems that the Florida Department of Transportation (at someone’s urging) has made a $500,000 (50-50) grant available immediately to Martin County to build the customs facility – but it has to be decided in the next 3days (Sept 30) – hence the rush.

This grant was and is still available for 2012 / 2013 as originally planned. So why the rush? I believe it is because a number of folks are starting to ask questions on the financial viability of this project which most likely would be negative.

To date, there has been no independent financial analysis on whether or not a customs facility will be self supporting. Commissioners Heard and Fielding have opposed the building of a customs facility at the airport.

Commissioners Hayes and Ciampi have gone on record as opposing customs IF it is shown that the facility will not be self supporting. Commissioner Hayes was particularly adamant on this point.

So I think the answer for the rush is to get the project approved before anyone has a chance to challenge the financials. We must ask commissioner’s Hayes and Ciampi to make good on their word and ask for real numbers.

What we feel that at a minimum, the decision to move forward on this project should be delayed until an independent financial analysis has been done. Then we can make decisions on the real numbers for this facility, not the unsubstantiated “pie in the sky” numbers put together by Galaxy Aviation and the Business Development Board.

Please email or call your commissioners and ask them to delay this vote until we know what the true cost will be to the taxpayers.

David Shore, President WAAM

Background from previous email

Customs at Witham Field – Were do we stand?

The Customs Facility being pushed by local airport operators and
airport staff has become a financial boondoggle. Everything we were
told about this project appears to have been pie in the sky
guesstimates including the report from the consultants that were hired
by Martin County to examine the feasibly of a fee based Customs
Facility at Witham Field.

According to the latest report by airport staff,  it will cost the
taxpayers somewhere in the neighborhood of $625 thousand dollars to
move forward on building a customs facility at Witham Field.

A customs facility will have little or no financial benefit to our
community (it only enhances the profits of our local Fixed Base
Operators (FBO’s) while at the same time, it increases air traffic at
our airport.

The public must understand that increasing traffic at the
airport provides little to no financial benefit to our community – but
it does increase noise and pollution while negatively impacting our
lives and property values.

Decreased property values for communities within a 5 mile radius of the airport can be substantial. Many residents are not aware that a 5 mile radius includes the City of Stuart, Palm City, the Town of Sewall’s Point and Jensen Beach. As traffic increases at the airport, the 5 mile radius increases so if you are not bothered by the airport now, you can expect that to change in the future if the airport continues to grow.

So where do we stand on the customs issue?

Background :

When proposed, we were told that the Customs Facility was an Economic
Development Project – an economic windfall for Martin County that
would produce jobs.
We were assured that Federal and State Funding would fund building the
Customs Facility with NO local money needed other than a small amount
from the Airport Enterprise Fund. (20%)
Were were assured that NO local taxpayer funding (ad valorum) would be used.
We were told the facility would cost around $600 thousand to build,
with the money to build to come from the FAA and the State Department
of Transportation grants. (80/20)
We were told the money to operate the facility ($200 thousand a year)
would come from user fees with the majority of the funding being
generated by the boating community (40% aircraft – 60% from boaters)
Staff was asked to verify the Business Plan Report submitted by the
Economic Development Council (EDC) as to the feasibility of a User Fee
Customs Facility which they did with a positive report for building a
customs facility which was presented to the Board of County
Commissioners.

What is the truth?

The Customs Facility is no longer being called an Economic
Development Project to enhance our community – but is now being called
an “Airport Enhancement”.
The Customs Facility is no longer being called a ” Fee Based Customs
Facility”  it is now being called an “International Arrival Facility
at Witham Field”.
The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) had denied any use of Federal Funding.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) had denied any FDOT
funding if the Customs Facility is used for boaters – it MUST be used
by aircraft only and they will only fund the facility at 50%
Alan Bersin, Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection has
denied the use of a Customs Facility at Witham Field for marine
traffic including local boaters.
The cost for building a Customs Facility has gone from $600 thousand
to $1.25 million.
Jobs are no longer the focus for the facility – Airport Enhancement is
now the justification.
Airport Staff and the Consultants failed to discover important facts
which make a Customs Facility infeasible – for instance funding is not
available in the FDOT 5 year plan.
That US Customs regulations may be amended addressing Fee Based
Customs Facilities, but no mention is made of the regulation change
process which must be published, is long and requires public input –
none of which has been done.

A customs facility at Witham Field is opposed by the Town of Sewall’s
Point, the Guardians of Martin County, the Consensus Organization,
WAAM and local residents. Please join with us to also oppose this bad
and expensive idea.

Your appearance at the meeting tomorrow or email tonight to the
commissioners will make a difference!

How to contact our commissioners :

Ed Campi
eciampi@martin.fl.us

Sarah Heard
sheard@martin.fl.us

Doug Smith
dsmith@martin.fl.us

Patrick Hayes
phayes@martin.fl.us

Ed Fielding
edfieldin@martin.fl.us

Talking Points

The only apparent reason for building a Fee Based Customs Facility at
Witham Field at taxpayer expense appears to be to enhance the profits
of our local Fixed Base Operators at the airport.
Why didn’t the consultants that were hired by Martin County discover
basic facts such as boaters not being able to use the facility –
especially since the business plan called for 60% of the operating
budget was to come from boaters? – There now seems to be a question on
whether or not we can charge – still up in the air.
Where are the funds for this project going to come from?  Latest – 50
– 50 split   Martin county airport and the FDOT
Why didn’t airport staff and the consultants fully disclose the true
cost of the facility sooner?
Boaters have been eliminated from using a customs facility at the
airport ??  – since the boaters were supposed to provide 60% of the
revenue, this makes the facility financially unsound – why isn’t this
project dead on arrival?
Jobs were the reason given for Customs at the Airport – Since that is
no longer the case, why isn’t this project dead on arrival?
The Airport Manager, George Stokus who originally assured the public
that he was neutral on a Customs Facility at Witham Field has
apparently decided differently and is making every effort to establish
Witham Field as an International Arrival Facility at Martin County
Airport and is willing to commit $625 thousand dollars to the project
– the public must ask WHY??
FDOT does not have the funding available in their 5 year plan  ??  –
This may have changed.”

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