No decision on Witham Field customs office proposal

STUART, Fla. --  The discussion over a potential customs office at Witham Field in Stuart has been ongoing for years.  Martin County commissioners have decided to put the decision off until more discussion is made on August 5th.  

The proposal adds a customs office that would service people traveling into the airport and surrounding marinas.  

Alexander Berringer, Executive Vice President and Director of Operations for Fair Wind Air Charter, is one of many who believes in the idea. 

"We are very, very sure that this will be successful," he said.

When aircraft return to the hangar from outside the country, they must pass customs in Palm Beach County or Fort Pierce.  

"Which requires an additional step, an additional stop.  Burns more gas, it's a huge expense to us, and we have 25 aircraft that all do that on a routine basis," he said.  

Berringer is one of many aviation and marine businessmen in the area who believes adding a customs office would boost tourism dollars for surrounding businesses, while also improving the situation for travelers and business owners at the airport and surrounding marinas.  

Opponents fear it could mean extra cost or noise.  

Jackie Trancynger has lived in Martin County for 14 years.  "And it's only for people who own airplanes, people who own large boats, and people who sell jet fuel at the airport facility," she said.

Supporters of the idea say the facility would cost $1.4 million, which would be paid for by the Florida Department of Transportation and the Airport Enterprise Fund.  A group of aviation and marine businesspeople call themselves the Martin County Marine and Aviation Alliance.  They say they will provide $50,000 for the first three years in case there is a shortfall, but they cite studies that predict profits.

Both sides will have to wait.  The majority of county commissioners said they did not have enough time Tuesday to vote on the issue.  The item has been continued until August 5th.  Audible groans were heard from supporters and community members when the decision was being made.  


Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, John O'Brien, says the delay is typical for Martin County.  


"Now they're claiming they haven't read their reports already, what are they doing here in a meeting, if they haven't done their homework?" O'Brien said.


Estimates suggest 3,000 to 5,000 additional aircraft would pass through Witham Field if the customs office were to be approved. About 70,000 currently pass through in a typical year.  Prior to the recession, 120,000 planes came through the airport.