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County lays groundwork for change at airport

As the real estate market continues to heat up, and the
tourism economy persists in setting records, county officials are paying more attention to the Apalachicola Regional Airport.

In a series of actions over the last six weeks, county commissioners
agreed to avert a potential clash with pilots and other airport enthusiasts by voting
to relocate any construction of a new emergency operations center on a site adjacent
to the airport but away from the runway, so as eliminate any possible interference
with planes.

In addition, earlier this month, commissioners decided to scrap
an earlier request for qualifications to hire a permanent airport manager and reconstitute
the search committee. In doing so, they resolved a potential problem with the
original RFQ since a member of the three-person committee that drafted the RFQ’s terms, interim airport manager Ted Mosteller, had decided to apply
for the job.

Mosteller, who was named as interim manager after Jason
Puckett ended his contract with the county earlier this summer, is paid $1,500
a month under a contract that as of now extends to the end of September.

County commissioners had concerns Mosteller’s role on
the search committee –  which also included County Finance Director Erin Griffith
and Andrew Hartman, who heads up Centric Aviation, the airport’s fixed
base operator – would call into question the county’s eventual choice for a permanent

As a result, commissioners decided Sept. 21 to unanimously approve
a motion made by Commissioner Jessica Ward to go back to the drawing board.

“They rejected it before they even mentioned the names so we
basically start from fresh,” said Michael Morón, the county coordinator.

He said he plans to submit names for the new RFQ committee at
the commissioners’ Oct. 5 meeting. The hire, who will be a contracted employee
and not a government hire, will likely to be required to have a college degree,
prior experience with small airport management and either economic development experience
“or the potential to work with an economic group to open up the airport to other
opportunities,” Morón said.

He said he is likely to recommend that the requirement the new hire live within 100 miles of the airport be expanded. “We may want to
widen that up a little bit,” Morón said. “They can fly from here to
there in less than an hour.”

He said he would like the new committee to review what other
airports have done with their hiring processes and to consider increasing the
compensation based on the commissioners’ desire to tighten up the criteria for

The commissioners also have decided that if and when they
secure the millions of dollars needed to build a new emergency operations center, it be located on the airport grounds, as it currently is, but be far from
where it could interfere with aircraft.

The commissioners had weighed a
possible relocation to a more central location, on State Route 65, but decided to
keep it at the airport.

“I’m happy they decided not to put it on the approach end of
the north-south runway,” wrote Gordon Hunter, co-chair of the Friends of the
Apalachicola Regional Airport group, in a letter to members. “It would have interfered
with air operations. At least a victory of some sort was made.”

As much as the county needs to replace what is clearly an
outmoded emergency operations center, too small for the county’s needs, funding for the
project is as yet not a sure thing.

Morón said the county has received a $200,000 grant from the
Florida Division of Emergency Management for engineering a new facility but
has not yet secured the federal and state dollars needed to building it.

He said U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn (R-Panama City) has put a $1.5
million request for construction monies on his list of infrastructure projects that he wants funded by Congress.

“We will be asking the state legislature for more money for
construction as well,” Morón said.

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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