Witham Field at a crossroads: ‘Our airport is on a path from which this community will not recover’

Flight path near YMCA athletic fields in the center of Stuart: Martin County residents will find a major airport their backyard if a customs facility is approved. Witham Airport Action Majority President David Shore urges residents to contact our county commissioners immediately. (Source: WAAM)

The President of The Witham Airport Action Majority, David Shore, provides a timely update on the proposed customs facility at Martin County’s community airport.

We are at a crossroads at Witham Field, but first a little history is necessary.

Expansion at Witham Field has been slow and steady but controllable. We have

experienced two major airport expansion projects in the past that have severely impacted

Martin County. The most damaging was the illegal runway extension built in 1998.

The other was the installation of an Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS) in

2011. This EMAS system allowed the main jet runway to remain at its extended length

of 5,826’. Keeping the airport runway at this length put an entire neighborhood NW of

the airport in the runway protection zone, which is prohibited by FAA regulations. The

longer runway also allows and encourages much larger jets to use our airport. In addition

to these two large expansion projects, we have seen a number of smaller expansion but

manageable projects. But that is about to change.

We will soon be asked to approve another major expansion project, which combined with

the two above, puts our airport on a path from which this community will not recover.

A Customs Facility at Witham Field. This facility will transform our airport from a

Domestic General Aviation Airport to an International Airport. In spite of cries to the

contrary, this transformation assures that in short order, we will see limited scheduled

airline service begin; and the clear possibility of larger scheduled airline service to soon

follow.

The airport operators have pushed this project for a number of years. But construction

and operating costs have been a major roadblock. The cost was originally estimated to

be around $800,000. That number quickly fell by the wayside when the lowest estimate

received came in at over $1.2 million. Operating costs are estimated at over $300,000 a

year with nothing being offered by supporters showing how these costs will be met. If

the facility does not generate the necessary income to sustain its operations, then local

taxpayers will be asked to make up the deficit.

WAAM has opposed this project from the very beginning. By attending and speaking at

local groups such as the Airport Noise Advisory Committee, the Stuart City Commission,

Sewall’s Point Commission meetings and Martin County Board of County Commission

meetings, we have represented residents concerned with airport growth and its impacts.

Our message remains that same, residents near the airport can look forward to increased

air traffic, air and noise pollution and decreased property values. Martin County residents

will find a major airport their backyard.

A commitment was made to our community by the Board of County Commissioners that unless pro-customs advocates (mainly the two fixed base operators on the airport, Stuart Jet and Galaxy Aviation) could guarantee that the Customs Facility would be self-supporting, that the commission would not approve the facility. In spite of numerous attempts by the Fixed Base Operators and their supporters, they have not been able to come up with a workable scheme.

A recently formed group called the “Martin Marine Aviation Alliance” has been working with the Martin County Attorney to work out an agreement to ensure that the taxpayers will not be on the hook for any shortfalls in the operation of the proposed Customs Facility. Although we have not seen the proposed agreement, anything less than money in the bank to cover any shortfalls should not be acceptable to the community.

One suggestion put forth recently was that this group be allowed to provide a “Financial Commitment” to Martin County. A financial commitment is not money in the bank and the track record for the pro-airport crowd has been dismal. So unless the Board of County Commissioners demands money up front and in hand, and can guarantee that the customs facility will be self-supporting and will not negatively impact Martin County, the proposed customs facility should be soundly rejected.

[Let our Martin County Commissioners know where you stand on this proposal for an unnecessary customs facility: http://www.martin.fl.us/portal/page?_pageid=339,1&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL&lnfi=&rgg=&pgg=344&sa=&sc=&emid=6672&c_name=Contact%20all%20Commissioners ]

 

 

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