Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Fernandina Beach City Hall was the site last night of the first ever joint Airport Advisory Commission (AAC)/Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) workshop. About two dozen members of the public, including aviators, airport neighbors, former AAC members and potential investors were on hand to listen to two presentations and discussions concerning the role of the AAC in helping the FBCC make policy that affects the airport. While the AAC initially requested this meeting to determine the FBCC’s expectations for them, City Manager/Acting Airport Manager Joe Gerrity expanded it to include updates relating to economic development and the status of various airport activities and plans.
Steve Rieck, Executive Director of the Nassau County Economic Development Board, briefed the board members on the airport as a job opportunity area. He divided opportunities into those “inside the fence” – the potential East Terminal Area – and those “outside the fence” on both city-owned and privately owned land. He provided information from Enterprise Florida targeting the potential for jobs inside the fence in the areas of airport support operations, air transportation support activities, flight training, and aircraft parts and equipment manufacturing. Outside the fence activities could include so-called medical tourism activities, amusement parks, RV parks and campgrounds, food establishments and transportation activities. He identified four airports as peer airports: Venice Municipal (VNC), Flagler County (XFL), McKinnon/St. Simons Island (SSI), and Johns Island/Charleston Executive Airport (JZI).
As part of the NCEDB’s role in assisting with airport related economic development, Rieck recapped some of the activities that he is currently involved in, such as working on an Economic Element Task Force, drafting airport marketing materials, researching and taking input from airport users and stakeholders, and promoting the airport through site visits from JAXUSA and others. Rieck reinforced his commitment to attending AAC meetings dealing with the airport vision and the airport master plan.
Andrew Holesko, the second speaker, recapped a presentation that he made to the FBCC several months ago. Holesko is a representative of Passero Associates, a firm retained as the city’s airport consultants since 1997. His detail-intensive briefing covered airport planning, existing facilities, current and future projects. He spent considerable time reassuring the FBCC and the public that the tree removal plan was proceeding carefully and with all appropriate consideration of concerns raised during the past months.
He opined that the project, while in its dirty stage right now, will begin to look better as berms are added to certain areas and replanting gets underway.
He discussed the East Area Development plans that included an aircraft parking area, hangar, and welcome center/emergency operations building.
Holesko raised the need or advisability of updating the Airport Master Plan (developed in 1990) and the Airport Layout Plan (dating from 1999). While he recommended a full-blown master plan update, he acknowledged that other grant projects have higher funding priorities with the FAA/FDOT. He took pains to reinforce statements that he made at the last briefing regarding the future of the airport: there are no plans for expansion of the airport or runways to allow for larger aircraft or scheduled airline flights resembling those conducted at Jacksonville International Airport. Rather plan revisions would allow for other activities at the airport, such as car racing, that are not covered under the current plan.
City Commissioners appeared to receive both presentations well. Commissioner Pat Gass indicated that she was “all over helping the airport become all that it can be”, while acknowledging that she doesn’t fully understand consequences of that statement. That’s where she would rely on input from the AAC.
AAC Vice Chair Dave Dully reported to the FBCC that there is not currently a consistent flow of information between the city and the AAC or the AAC and the FBCC. AAC Member Sam Lane elaborated, reminding the FBCC, “There is an enormous wealth of talent on the AAC. Were there an airport manager, we would be working closely with that person before approaching the City Manager and the City Commission. Andrew Holesko has a for-profit motivation, not a bad thing, in briefing you. But we [the AAC] can give you a perspective on what is in the best interest of the city. We ask that if you are presented with an item of business that affects the airport, you ask, ‘What did the AAC say about this?’”
Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett asked if the FBCC could ask the AAC for reports. Lane responded affirmatively, citing a recent study the AAC conducted on aviation fuel prices.
Several AAC members lamented the lack of a full time airport manager. Mayor Sarah Pelican responded that she was “happy with Bobby”, a reference to Bobby Kozakoff, a part time airport employee recently converted to full time status to take on more responsibilities. City Manager/Acting Airport Manager Joe Gerrity chimed in that he would not be able to run the airport as a part time manager “without Bobby.” Gerrity went on to tell the FBCC that he had promised, “I’ll say uncle when I have enough.” Mr. Kozakoff was not a participant in the discussion.
An AAC member asked, “What’s the advantage of having Gerrity do two jobs [city manager and airport manager]?” Gerrity replied that he was trying to build relationships with the FAA and the FDOT.
AAC Member Sam Lane explained that the AAC could be helpful to the city in reviewing proposed contracts, leases and proposed changes to the Airport Master Plan. But that the AAC often learns about these matters after Gerrity and the FBCC have made the decision. “If we are not consulted in advance,” he asked, “what good are we?”
Other AAC members complained about not having access to meeting materials in advance and the difficulty of navigating the city’s website to locate historical data. Acting Clerk Kim Briley offered to work with members to meet their information needs.
One of the airport issues currently before the city is meeting the need for additional hangars. There are 15 people wait listed for hangars. According to Gerrity, the city has always reserved the right to build hangars. Now others want to build them to meet needs more quickly. There seemed to be consensus that this would be a good discussion item for the AAC.
Airport Advisory Commission member Richard Gray circled back to the need for an airport vision statement, cited by both Steve Rieck and Andrew Holesko in their presentations. He asked about the status of such a statement, citing deficiencies in the so-called draft vision statement provided by a local citizen and airport user during a public meeting last year. Consensus of both boards was that the AAC should work on a vision statement to bring back to another joint meeting of the two boards in mid-May.
After brief public input the meeting ended at 7:40 p.m.
February 19, 2013 2:20 p.m.