The future of Lambert International Airport could be one of the most pivotal questions impacting the region for decades to come. The issues around the future of the airport and the processes and players involved are quickly becoming the center of a brewing political storm.
“This is a regional asset that will affect tens of millions of people in the region,” St. Louis County Council member Ernie Trakas [R-District 6] told reporters after the council’s Nov. 5 meeting. “So, the idea that somehow that should be considered for privatization by a cabal of paid consultants who will gain if privatization goes forward is at heart [of the issue].”
Those strong words from the council’s presiding officer came immediately following the passage of a lengthy resolution condemning the process and people behind the review of the airport’s future. The resolution was passed 6-0 with one council member absent.
“… the current policy of the city of St. Louis to pursue only its own interest regarding such a critical regional asset in complete disregard of all interests outside of the borders of the city of St. Louis represents a reversal of a long-standing policy as well as an abandonment of the regional cooperation and support …” the resolution read in part.
The Airport Working Group has answered similar criticisms in the past by pointing to its website, www.fly314.com, which it claims is a depository of working documents, meeting minutes and related items. After the passing of the council’s resolution, Trakas disputed this claim.
“The simple fact of the matter is that [the Airport Working Group’s website] is designed to create the illusion of transparency,” Trakas said. “No minutes of closed sessions are contained in there. All business is done with that group of consultants in closed sessions so there’s no way for the public to know what discussions or decisions are made … the idea that the website provides all the transparency the city needs to provide is an illusion.”
Trakas didn’t mince words in his post-meeting comments making it clear he believed the current process not only lacked transparency but was likely marred by corruption.
“Many members of the council spent two years peeling back the corruption onion that was existing under the Steve Stenger administration,” Trakas said. “So, the idea that somehow the city is beyond the ability to conduct nefarious operations behind closed doors … we’ve proven it here in the county that it can happen.”
Trakas and the council aren’t the first to raise concerns over the Airport Working Group. Members of the St. Louis City Council along with the mayors of several municipalities surrounding the airport have questioned the perceived lack of transparency in the group’s work.
On Nov. 6, the Airport Working Group released a list of 18 organizations that responded to the group’s call for qualifications just over a month ago. That call is seen as the first step toward a formal request-for-qualifications process.
“The Airport Working Group is looking forward to reviewing the responses from all of the respondents,” said Chairman Paul Payne said. “It is our goal to review the RFQ responses and to provide the public with more details about the respondents next week.”
The Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] has accepted a preliminary application from the city of St. Louis to privatize the airport. Although Lambert sits entirely within the geographical jurisdiction of St. Louis County, the city has long maintained full operational authority over the airport.
When asked by a reporter if the resolution passed Nov. 5 was anything more than symbolic, Trakas admitted the resolution lacked any binding authority over the Airport Working Group or the city of St. Louis. His hope, he said, was to compel more transparency and cooperation with all impacted parties in regard to the future of Lambert.
County Executive Sam Page has met with St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson on several occasions to discuss the fate of the airport. However, Page did not make himself available to answer questions from the media following the Nov. 5 council meeting.