Letter to the Editor: County airports cash cows, not liabilities

In recent articles in the Naples Daily News regarding the Collier County Commission, acting as the Collier County Airport Authority, it appears that the County Commission does not appear to know the workings of the county’s airport structure. There are many results of their actions if they are carried out, all bad for the people and taxpayers of Collier County and the economy of same.

The three county airports, Marco Island, Everglades City and Immokalee, are the airports in the system. These airports have received millions of dollars in public funds by grants from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to maintain and improve these fields for the public use. They realize that these airports will provide great economic benefit to the surrounding communities. They, in turn, expect these airports to be run and maintained in good and safe condition at all times. If not, in accordance with the agreements signed when these funds were granted, they can close the airport until they are made to conform to their requirements. If an airport owner, such as Collier County, decides to sell an airport, they must repay all the grant monies as they are public funds that are protected by these agreements

Our three airports have received at least 30 million dollars in grants for improvements to the three airports. Since Airport Manager Chris Curry came aboard we have completed Marco taxiway, seven million dollars, which received Florida’s award of ‘general aviation project of the year’. This taxiway has been 11 years in the making, with all the environmental barriers, but now will bring a great measure of safety to airport operations as well as greater usage. Also received is $700,000 for preliminary design for the refurbishment of the Marco runway, $770,000 for design work for replacement of the Immokalee runway, which has not seen remedial work since it was built in 1942. In accordance with FAA requirements, the Everglades runway has to be extended, and FDOT has provided $275,000 for the preliminary design for this project. When this work is contracted, at least 92 percent of the funds will be granted, making 8 percent the County’s share. These airports have increased tremendously in actual and economic value during the last six years that I have been on the Advisory Board,(successor to the Airport Authority) . Our board, incidentally, has been charged with all aspects of airport operation, management, upgrades, construction and the requests for and receipt of grants and funds. Our decisions have not been questioned until now.

The FDOT claims, with due expertise, that our airports raise millions of dollars each year in economic benefits to people and businesses in the area. This is supported by the Aircraft Owners and Pilot’s Association (AOPA), who have many years of oversight of general aviation (private, corporate and charter flights), and their estimate of 25 million dollars in financial benefits is acknowledged as an accurate figure. Of course, their estimate includes Naples Municipal, which is probably two-thirds of that amount. But, the remaining 11 million dollars per year represents an enormous amount from these three airports.

The latest year of costs to the county for the operation of these three airports is $580,000. Compare that to the millions of dollars received in financial benefits during that same year. It doesn’t take rocket science to show that these three airports are actually cash cows, not liabilities to the county. Yet, the commission says we should be repaying the debts incurred by the operation of these fields. Let’s look at the Collier County Economic Development Council that received $400,000.00 last year for operations. It is not required to be repaid, yet it is from the same taxpayer’s money that is used for airport operations that repay millions. Their base is travelers using commercial aviation and cars, going to the beach and usually on a small budget. The airports attract airplanes and their owners. They want to have quick access to their nice homes and the finer programs that the community provides, such as arts and entertainment, good restaurants, high end stores, and are ready to pay for it. That is what we call financial benefit to the county.

Dave Gardner

Marco Island

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