City Manager Dale Martin and many on the Fernandina Beach City Commission, believe the proposed new airport facility is a good idea and a project that is ready for takeoff, but to many it won’t fly…. except when it’s not supposed to.
Based on articles in local news organizations, comments from former city managers, previous airport advisory board members and pilots, a new airport welcome center/terminal as currently proposed is about as popular as Nancy Pelosi at an American Legion BBQ. The consensus is that the city should get back to the original intention and pull the plug on its current $5 million plus project, that is not only more than double its original budget but includes a whacky design that looks like a cheap ride at a county fair that could also be downright dangerous.
What is necessary say experienced pilots, two previous city managers (one who served as airport manager), and former city Airport Advisory Committee members, is a facility that can withstand a category 5 hurricane, accommodate airport staff and come in at or below $2 million, which was the original plan.
On Wednesday, March 8, a handful of spectators watched as five bids to construct the municipal airport welcome center/terminal were opened and read at city hall with amounts ranging from $3,685,000 to $5,177,411, all far higher than the original estimated cost of $2.4-2.6 million.
A couple of weeks ago I submitted a list of questions to City Manager Martin asking about the new airport project to which he quickly and politely responded. I’m summarizing Mr. Martin’s answers here but readers can find his full responses in a March 2, 2017 online Fernandina Observer article (“Trying to quash airport rumors is like trying to unring a bell”) by Suanne Thamm, who asked similar questions and printed the city manager’s entire response to each. There were also a dozen comments posted following the Observer article with every one of them opposed to the new facility and its design.
In his responses to me Mr. Martin clarified that the proposed new building will not be called a “Welcome Center” but a” General Aviation Terminal” a term preferred, he says, by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which he adds, is providing some of the money to build the thing.
Mr. Martin said a new building was necessary because the current 3,200 square-foot facility is not adequate to provide space for offices, a waiting area, flight planning, concessions, storage, Fixed Based Operators (FBO) corporate offices, retail sales, a public meeting room, and other amenities for pilots and passengers. He said that our airport is the only one in the northeast Florida that can’t withstand a “reasonably strong storm” and possibly serve in response and recovery efforts following such a storm.
When asked if it was a conflict because the same company (Passero Associates) that recommended the building, hired the people who designed it, and will then recommend/hire the folks that build it Mr. Martin said “No.” He said all those decisions have been reviewed by a design committee and the Airport Advisory Commission, and then subsequently approved by the City Commission, which, he says, will make the award for construction based upon a competitive bid process.
Local residents will benefit says Mr. Martin because the new building will “provide better access and aesthetics to support the area’s economic development” and the public will have access to it.
In response to my question asking how much this project would cost city tax payers Mr. Martin said “no General Fund monies will be used for the terminal construction. He said FAA money, Florida Department of Transportation grants and Fernandina Beach Airport revenues such as hangar rents, fuel sales, facility use agreements and ground leases will fund the project. “If a Fernandina Beach resident has no financial interest or activity at the Airport (or associated Airport property), that resident will not be contributing to the funding of the terminal,” he says. I think Mr. Martin believes that, but I’m not sure that will be the case particularly if required airport revenues don’t materialize.
The peculiar design of the terminal has become a bone of contention and despite the fact that I’m not an architect and never studied aerodynamics, I’m willing to bet the mortgage that the critics of the “Let’s build it to look like an airplane” crowd are correct.
Proponents of the oddball design want to build the facility to resemble a FU4 Corsair, a plane that flew out of the Fernandina Beach airport during World War II, an honorable and patriotic gesture, but not a practical one.
According to a principle of aerodynamics called Bernoulli’s law, wings are designed to create lift that powers an airplane upward. If a category 5 hurricane doesn’t lift the airport terminal off the ground it would rip the building’s wings and tail off sending them flying through the air as deadly missiles. A plane can be lifted up when standing still if the wind is strong enough, and recently the nose of a Southern Air jet, parked in Mojave, outside of Los Angeles, was lifted off the ground as the 747s wings generated enough movement to actually pick up the fuselage. Recently the wind in a mild tropical storm was strong enough to lift a 170-ton Boeing 747 off the ground in Taiwan.
Not only is the design nuts, but anyone who thinks pilots and their passengers will hang around the new terminal are delusional. Once a private plane has landed its occupants quickly scurry to a waiting limo and are off to their residence, the Ritz-Carlton or Omni Plantation Resort. Their pilots ensure the plane is gassed up, secured and then head to their respective hotel or take off again. The only people that will hang out at this airport terminal will be the ones that are employed there.
The city manager, who has been in his job for a little over a year, appears to be a strong supporter of the new $5 million plus terminal but his enthusiasm for it isn’t shared by many in the community, some who have been involved since the project was conceived 10 years ago as a $1.1 million disaster recovery support center.
Following are excerpts from comments by well-respected and knowledgeable members of the community who have made their opinions concerning the new airport facility known through News-Leader letters to the editor, emails to me, comments on this blog and on the Fernandina Observer blog.
Louis Goldman (Former member of FB Airport Advisory Committee, FAA Licensed Commercial Pilot): Holy Smokes, how did plans for a $1 million welcome center morph into a $4 million dollar airport terminal? This airport does not need, and will not for many years need, what was called a welcome center now referred as a terminal building, especially one that is going to cost somewhere between $2 – 4 million dollars. It will be an absolute waste of FDOT and FAA dollars plus another potential $600,000 from the City and the Airport Fund. Every FBO has their own welcome center, pilot’s lounge and space for meetings and those facilities are sized to accommodate the traffic at the FBO. Our new FBO was prepared to do the same for their new facility – including a welcome center – until the city came up with the idea of a public/private partnership – building a Welcome Center/Terminal in conjunction with the new FBO only because the city was able to receive grants from both the FDOT and the FAA. This entire project is a serious mistake and an unnecessary waste of government funds by both the FDOT and the FAA. It was pointed out to the City Commission at one of their past workshops that the FDOT could and would repurpose their grant for what the airport really needs. And that is a Category 5 Operational Building that would contain space for the Airport Manager, operational staff and a communications center in the event of a major hurricane. It could also include space for meetings, offices for rent, offices for rental cars and aviation oriented businesses. This income could be used for maintenance of the building. (Mr. Goldman’s comments are excerpts from a February 10 News-Leader letter to the editor and an email to me.)
Joe Gerrity (Former Fernandina Beach City Commissioner and former City Manager and acting Airport Manager): After the extremely active and destructive hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005 in Florida, the Florida Department of Transportation started a program to build terminals on the smaller general aviation airports (like ours in Fernandina Beach) capable of withstanding a Category 5 hurricane and (that) could be used to assist in emergency and recovery operations….The proposal was approved by the Airport Advisory Board and the City Commission….if the FAA, FDOT and FBO’s contributions came o $2 million then we would construct a building (so) that the cost did not exceed $2 million. There was never a discussion of using taxpayer dollars from the city’s general fund, not should there be. The goal was to build this building without incurring any debt to the city or the airport. When I left the city in October 2015 there was almost $1 million in the Airport Reserve Fund. Needless to say, when I saw the rendering on the front page of this newspaper (News-Leader) a few months ago, then the recent article with the price estimate, my reaction was somewhere between shock and horror that the design and cost were so far removed from the original concept. Seems like it is time to go back to the drawing board. (Mr. Garrity’s comments are excerpted from his recent News-Leader letter to the editor).
Andrew J. Curtin (Pilot and former member of FB Airport Advisory Committee): In light of this escalation ($1.1 million to $4 million) I strongly urge the city to implement the following recommendations regarding the project: 1- Pull the plug now; 2- Return to the original intent – a Category 5 wind-resistant building at the airport capable of serving as an emergency operations center/disaster recovery support facility; 3- Since other uses are allowed, recommend configuring the interior areas not needed for EOC functions as office spaces and facilities for staff and possibly a conference room; 4- Decouple the project from the FBO issue; 5- Remain with the funding constraints of the state grant; 6- Stipulate that the FBO(s) are permitted to renovate, upgrade or construct facilities to suit their needs at their expense….no taxpayer or airport funds (aviations users) should subsidize a commercial enterprise. Mr. Curtin also suggested city management should discuss the Corsair design concept with Friends of Fernandina, which is also working on a commemorative effort. (Mr. Curtin’s comments are excerpted from his February 24 News-Leader letter to the editor).
Dave Lott (Former Interim Fernandina Beach City Manager): I believe that my comments to the previous article were misconstrued. In no way was I intending to voice support for a $4 million dollar terminal building, welcome center or whatever you want to call it, but simply voicing support for a new FBO terminal facility. When I saw the original conceptual design I thought it was novel. In talking to others that know much more than I do about such things, they indicated that the construction and maintenance costs would be extremely high and even questioned the facility’s endurance (i.e. the wings) in a major hurricane. The point I was trying to make is that the new FBO operator, Eight Flags Aviation, is committed to providing a first class facility to pilots and their passengers and maintaining competitive fuel prices to eliminate the current problem of pilots refueling elsewhere to what many consider to be non-competitive prices as Lou (Goldman) wrote about in his comments . The current FBO facility owned by the City and leased to the McGill’s is old and worn and the McGills have done the best with what they had to work with but they will be the first to tell you that it is not up to standards that corporate pilots expect. Nobody would sink major dollars into renovations for a facility for which one’s lease might end soon. So new terminal/FBO facility – YES!! $4 million price tag – NO!!! (Mr. Lott’s comments are a response to this blog’s February 17 posting “Clearance, Clarence. Roger, Roger. Vector, Victor & Also Explain The New Airport Bldg.”)
Correction Department: Two weeks ago when I reported Amelia Island resident and World War II Marine Corps combat veteran Cal Atwood’s talk to the European American Business Club (EABC) I wrote that he parachuted onto Iwo Jima. He didn’t. Nobody did. I picked that up from Cal’s introduction at the EABC and Cal politely corrected me later saying he did NOT parachute onto the island and that all Marines landed on Iwo in Higgins boats. “Japanese fire power was too fierce and too concentrated to allow the possibility of a jump,” said Cal. In addition to that he says his parachute battalion was disbanded some months before the Iwo engagement as were all other Marine parachute battalions. Did I mention that Cal fought in one of the most fierce battles ever by U.S. Marines and was a witness to history as he watched the American flag raised on Iwo’s Mt. Suribuchi before being wounded and evacuated?
$60,000 + A Year For This? Debate doesn’t exist on college campuses anymore. That was obvious during the recent Berkeley student riots that chased an invited gay conservative speaker off campus with liberal loons causing $500,000 in damage to private and public property. It happened again at Middlebury College when an invited speaker was shouted down and a professor injured by an unruly student mob. These actions show that since liberal students and professors are clearly unable to challenge these speakers intellectually they scream, set things on fire, throw stuff and physically attack the invited guests. Where are the parents? The country’s colleges have become “safe places” for lunatics and thugs that deserve to be buried in student debt. And under President Trump the tax payers won’t be bailing these losers out!