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Airport work gets boost

Clearwater has $600,000 in FAA grants it can’t use and wants to give it to St. Petersburg to help fund a ramp at Albert Whitted Airport.

By AARON SHAROCKMAN
Published August 2, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG — In a place where parochial political battles typically rule the day, this is a bit of a shocker:

The city of Clearwater wants to give the city of St. Petersburg $600,000.

Yes, give. Yes, $600,000.

“I just hope that Mayor Baker appreciates this,’’ said Clearwater City Council member Bill Jonson.

No strings attached.

“It should remind him what good neighbors we are,” chimed in Clearwater council member Hoyt Hamilton.
Really.

“We don’t need it,” said Bill Morris, who is in charge of Clearwater Airpark, the city’s tiny municipal airport. “We won’t use it.”

This generosity, of course, is highly atypical.

And before the people of Clearwater revolt against their elected leaders, there is an explanation.

The money, which is allocated by the Federal Aviation Administration in a grant to Clearwater, cannot really be used by the city of Clearwater, because its airport isn’t open 24 hours a day.

So Clearwater, still being generous, has decided to earmark the money to St. Petersburg for the expansion of the Albert Whitted Airport.


The grant money, when coupled with other FAA and city dollars, would pay for a 12,000-square-yard airport ramp, a parking lot for airplanes.

The $809,000 ramp would be built next to the new $4-million terminal already under construction. The city also is building a $2.2-million control tower.

“No quid pro quo was offered,” Mayor Rick Baker said jokingly Wednesday. “Clearwater was in the position that they could help us out, and we really appreciate it.”

The FAA still must sign off on the transfer, which Baker thinks it will. The city had been searching for other ways to fund the airport ramp, including through Congress, but had been unsuccessful.

Now the ramp and the new terminal could be finished by early next year in time for the Honda Grand Prix if all goes as planned, said Richard Lesniak, who manages Albert Whitted.

“Clearwater really stepped up to the plate,” Lesniak said.

The FAA gives airports like Albert Whitted and Clearwater Airpark $150,000 each year to help pay for certain infrastructure improvements. But those grant dollars come with a catch: If the airports use the money, they have to follow FAA regulations.

Those regulations, among other things, would mean Clearwater would have to keep its runway open 24 hours a day — something officials have said they do not want to do.

They also would force Clearwater to create more space on either side of its single runway, cutting into hangar space to the east and a golf course to the west.

So for four years Clearwater just sat on its pot of money, which would have been bounced back to the FAA soon, said Morris, the Clearwater airport manager.

“This way, we get to keep it in Pinellas County,” he said. “If I can’t help guys here in Clearwater, at least we can help the next closest place.”

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at (727) 892-2273 or asharockman@sptimes.com.

[Last modified August 2, 2006, 23:29:42]


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