Stuart Commission gives green light to Customs office at Witham Field

Office would inspect passengers on boats, planes

STUART, Fla. - The U.S. Customs office proposed for Witham Field cleared the Stuart Commission on Monday, a little more than a week before going before the Martin County Commission.

City commissioners unanimously agreed to endorse — writing a letter of support — the "multi-modal" office that would inspect passengers entering the country on boats and airplanes.

"I know it's a county decision as far as putting Customs in Martin County, but I think it's going to be a boon for the city of Stuart," said City Commissioner Troy McDonald. "We have several marinas near downtown, most of the hotels in the county are in Stuart."

The office plans are scheduled to go before the county commission 1:30 p.m. April 19.

David Smith, general manager of Galaxy Aviation and representing the county Economic Council of Martin County, estimated the office would draw 20,000 people a year, 12,000 boaters and 8,000 by air, generating $50,000 in revenue the first year — after U.S. Customs expenses and construction costs — and $114,000 a year by the second year.

The office is expected to cost the county $600,000 to $800,000 to build, with 80 percent of the money coming from the Florida Department of Transportation.

"Why do we want to do this? Because it creates a convenience to the Martin County residents and businesses who are traveling to Fort Pierce and West Palm to clear customs," Smith told the city commissioners. "And it establish us as a destination location, which increases tourism and opportunities in job retention."

Currently, boaters who leave Martin County for the Bahamas or other ports of call must clear Customs within 24 hours upon returning. Boaters can request an agent come to their boat, at a cost of $300, or travel to existing Customs offices at St. Lucie International Airport or Palm Beach International Airport, where the inspection costs $15 per person.

Meanwhile, pilots coming from overseas to Stuart's airport must also land first in West Palm Beach or Fort Pierce to be inspected before they can go the final leg to Stuart.

In other matters at the city commission meeting Monday:

Directed staff to apply for a $307,552 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation for sidewalk and beautification improvements between the Woodlawn Park residential area along Martin Luther King Jr., Boulevard and the Martin County Courthouse and Constitutional Offices, Sailfish Park and Kiwanis Park.

Created the Community Services Advisory Board, to replace the Recreation Advisory Board, to offer recommendations on parks, recreation and cultural facilities.

The contract for Town Attorney Paul Nicoletti to replace retiring City Manager Dan Hudson may be ready for review at the April 25 meeting. Hudson retires May 27.

Commissioners will hold a budget workshop on April 20.

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