Ginny Sherlock does not speak for all of us, Mr. Murphy

Ginny Sherlock does not speak for all of us, Mr. Murphy

An email to Congressman Patrick Murphy is hurriedly being circulated among Martin County residents prior to the Nov. 5th County Commission meeting that we find downright offensive. Martin County’s unelected commissioner, Ginny Sherlock,wrote the email blasting Mr. Murphy for his letter (to Commission Chair Sarah Heard) pledging his support for the proposed customs facility at Witham Field.

Mr. Murphy, we want you to know that Ms. Sherlock speaks only for a small minority —quite a vocal one, but nonetheless a minority– particularly considering this proposed customs facility. We also want you to know that voters here did not turn out previous commissioners based on their support of the customs facility, as she told you. That’s an exaggeration that borders on the ridiculous.

Ms. Sherlock has deliberately perpetuated the misconception among her followers that building a customs facility, which then would reclassify Witham Field as an “international” airport, would inevitably transform it into a large, commercial airport. That’s wrong. It’s also dishonest to continue to perpetuate that myth simply to garner oppositional voices through fear.

Her fear is not that we’ll one day have a huge commercial airport, because that cannot happen for a host of reasons. Her fear is that the convenience of having a customs facility here might actually attract a few more people—or even a new business—to Martin County, an anathema to no-growthers.

An “international” classification means simply that international travelers can “check into” this country at Stuart, instead of going to Ft. Pierce or to West Palm Beach first. It does not mean building runways longer and larger to accommodate large commercial jets. Witham Field cannot and will not become another Palm Beach International Airport.

It is an economic stimulus for this county because those travelers who must fly to Ft. Pierce or to West Palm Beach now before coming to Stuart are more likely to spend their cash there—at their first stop. We’d rather they spend it here, instead of in Palm Beach or St. Lucie counties. Our still-struggling restaurants and shops—as well as our hotels for guests—need that extra shot of revenue.

We hope also to attract perhaps a few more tourists to the Stuart area, although the projections of additional flights are modest. We like tourists. We like the idea that they come, they spend, but then go home; therefore we want to make their trips here smooth and memorable, so they’ll come back.

It also would be the first time that boaters can check in at an airport facility. The combined aircraft/marine facility not only would make a Martin County customs facility unique, but also will make it economically feasible, because we are a community of boaters who take advantage of living only 60 miles from the Bahamas.

We also have international boaters who might ply that wonderful waterway called the St. Lucie River and C-44 canal to Lake Okeechobee and points west, should a customs facility be located in Stuart.

It would provide an opportunity for some of our established businesses at Witham Field to grow, maybe adding jobs, and certainly making them healthier. Commissioner Heard calls these businesses “special interests.” We call them “part of the county’s tax base.”

Is the facility funded? Not completely, but the $128,000 shortfall for construction is relatively small, especially since we’re contemplating construction of a $2 million training facility for firefighters, though maybe desirable, will not bring additional revenue to the county. The customs-funding shortfall would be made good if given just a little more time to procure grants.

Is there a risk it won’t be self-sustaining? Yes, but it’s fee-based, so the airport manager could raise the fees, which have been deliberately set lower than those at either Ft. Pierce or West Palm Beach.

And, there are other benefits.

An international status ranks higher than regional in the Federal Aviation Administration’s list of priority airports, so shutting down Witham Field’s control tower as a result of Congressional budget craziness is far less likely. That’s an important point for Stuart residents since those noise-abatement flight patterns are controlled by the tower. Without a tower—which we came close to losing after the sequester—a pilot chooses his own flight pattern.

Perhaps most important, Congressman Murphy, is that Ms. Sherlock and her drummers who insist on quashing every opportunity for real economic growth will ultimately destroy the quality of life of the majority of Martin County residents—the hard-working, don’t-give-me-handouts middle class—and will undermine the entrepreneurial spirit at the heart of our small business enterprises.

Mr. Murphy, the large majority of us do want this customs facility. As one speaker told the county commission at a public hearing earlier this year, a customs facility “will just polish the jewel” that is Martin County. Thank you for pledging to help us find the polish. Now the rest of us just need to apply some elbow grease.

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Barbara Clowdus