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"Incident causes concern at SRQ"


 
Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Incident causes concern at SRQ
Commissioner says he didn't find out about jet's troubles until days later
BY SARA KENNEDY
The Bradenton (FL) Herald


MANATEE - A private jet blew two tires and became stuck in the mud last
week, closing Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport for six hours and
diverting four inbound flights to Tampa.

But Commissioner Jack Rynerson, a member of the Sarasota Manatee Airport
Authority, which supervises the airport's operation, said although the
incident occurred Thursday he did not hear about it until Saturday, when
someone mentioned it at a cocktail party he was attending.

During Tuesdays meeting of the authority he said, "It does make you feel a
little stupid."

Though he complimented airport personnel on handling the incident smoothly,
he requested that Fred J. Piccolo, the airport's president and chief
executive officer, notify board members when an incident of such magnitude
occurs. Piccolo agreed.

The airport was closed after the private jet, owned by air charter company
JetShare US, landed on one of the runways and slid off into the mud, Piccolo
said. A crane had to lift it out, which shut the airport down from 9:43 p.m.
Thursday to 3:43 a.m. Friday, he said.

Commissioners were also a little testy when contemplating the long-delayed
Innovation Green project, which calls for a mixed-use development with a
hotel, restaurant and office complex on 7.8 acres of airport land fronting
University Parkway.

The proposed project has been in the works for years but has encountered
numerous setbacks. The latest one occurred in September, when the FAA turned
down a proposed 99-year lease between SRQ and the developer, SRQ Innovation
Green. The federal agency concluded the lease was so long, it constituted
what amounted to a sale of the property.

Developers have said they plan to build anyway, based on a 70-year previous
lease agreement but so far have not given a date when construction is to
begin, officials said. Commissioner Paul A. Sharff complained ground
breaking was supposed to begin last February and contended developers are in
default of their lease agreement and should be held to it.

"We're not doing anything about it," he said. Commissioner Kathleen D.
Baylis said she shared Sharff's frustration.

Piccolo promised to bring a development plan and updated time lines to the
next board meeting Jan. 22. He said the board could decide then whether it
liked the plan or opposed it and could take legal action to break the lease.

Newly-appointed Commissioner Eric Robinson joked: "Can you also include the
Sesame Street version because I have no idea what you guys are talking
about."

In other action, Piccolo said he has been notified by Sarasota County
officials that a review of a code enforcement complaint against him has been
ruled to be baseless.

Michael Stephenson, president of the Suncoast Professional Firefighters &
Paramedics Local 2546, which had represented airport firefighters until
their jobs were outsourced to a private firm in August, had asked for a
review to determine whether building permits were required on work done on
the Sarasota home the airport authority bought for Piccolo.

Despite 80 pages of documents Stephenson submitted, code enforcement
officials found no evidence of violations, Piccolo said. "I'm fully
confident we've done everything legally," he commented.

Stephenson and Piccolo have clashed repeatedly since the board voted to
outsource the jobs of 12 union firefighters in favor of a private firm,
Rural/Metro Corp., of Scottsdale, Ariz. Stephenson had asserted that the
board had compromised safety because many of the newly hired Rural/Metro
employees lacked state certifications and thus, were not legally allowed to
fight fires.

Piccolo read a letter from Christopher D. Daly of Sarasota praising the
airport fire department and its paramedics, who had saved his wife's life
Oct. 11 when she was having trouble breathing.

"Her doctors told me later that day that she owed her life to your medics,
your people and equipment plus their experience saved my wife's life," wrote
Daly.

Piccolo also handed out a press release noting that SRQ had aced the FAA's
annual safety certification inspection on Dec. 12, which covered various
items, such as building and pavement conditions, fueling, training and
airport rescue and firefighting performance.

Rural/Metro now has 11 certified firefighters and three whose certifications
are still pending, he said. However, Rural/Metro is supplying three
certified firefighters from elsewhere at its own expense until the final
three are certified, Piccolo said.

In other action, the board voted in favor of changes to the airport parking
policy to provide more space. Piccolo said recent low-cost airlines are
attracting more local customers, which require more space. Officials plan to
move the employee parking lot at a cost of $150,000 to provide more parking.
He said the mix of passengers is changing from about 30 percent local
travelers to 40 percent because of the popularity of low-cost carriers.

And the board will charge $10 per month for based active employees of
airport tenants for parking hangtags after a study found SRQ parking fees
much lower than those at comparable airports.

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