U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart in typical Democratic fashion is defending MidAmerica Airport as the savior of Scott Air Force Base.
Enyart, of Belleville, spoke to a Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce gathering last week. He praised the county for buying up the land around Scott as a buffer zone, because encroachment is often the reason military bases get closed. He also said the 126th Air Refueling Wing would not have located here without Mid- America's longer runway: "Those runways kept a $3 billion-a-year economic engine here."
The refueling wing is of great benefit to our area, but adding a runway is different than funding a civilian airport.
MidAmerica wasn't built to save Scott or create a buffer zone around it. To the contrary, in the 1980s, U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello and the Air Force had to be convinced that a civilian airport wouldn't hurt Scott. "Joint use will only be considered if it does not compromise military response, security, readiness, safety or quality of life," the Air Force told the FAA in the late 1980s.
MidAmerica was built to be a profitable airport in its own right, and that should be the criteria for judging its future. A study in 1988 projected that by 2005, the airport would have 2,100 employees, 2.5 million airline passengers annually and 16,000 cargo flights a year. Obviously it hasn't played out that way. How many cargo flights were there last year, a handful?
We supported MidAmerica Airport, but after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and after years of attempts to bring business to MidAmerica with minimal success, it's clear unfortunately that there is no real demand for a civilian airport in St. Clair County. The county needs to cut its losses.
But rather than look for a way out from under MidAmerica -- negotiate with the Air Force to take over that longer runway or get permission from the FAA to shut down operations, for instance -- Enyart and local Democrats paint those annual losses as a small price to pay to keep Scott open.
Supporting Scott's $3 billion economic impact does not require propping up MidAmerica.