Candidates vary on St. Augustine airport's direction

Incumbent wants airport to provide commercial airline services

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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - If you need to fly out for vacation and you live in St. Johns County, your closest option maybe Jacksonville International Airport, which could take an hour to drive to, depending on where you live.

That soon could change.

The St. Augustine Airport Authority is a nonpartisan board composed of five members who are elected countywide for four-year terms. Authority members receive no salary or stipends.

There will be two candidates on the November ballot. Attorney and pilot Jim Werter is the incumbent in Group 4 seeking his second term.

Werter says he wants to expand Northeast Florida Regional Airport, which currently is used only for private or corporate use, by providing commuter services. For instance, people could fly to Atlanta or Tampa without having to fly to JIA. Werter says the only concern so far has been noise, but he says it shouldn't be a problem.

"They must be listening to a little fear mongering. We're not getting jumbo jets into the airport," Werter said.

Neighbors talked about the possibility of hearing some noise from some potentially bigger planes taking off near their homes.

"Well, (Northrop) Grumman is right up the road, and they always test fire engines, so I don't see how it could be much worse," said Scott Allen, who lives near the airport.

"It could be bothersome sometimes, but you do get used to it," said Jill Neary, who also lives near the airport.

Werter says although he wants commercial airline services, he doesn't want to be a like JIA and wants to assure nearby residents they're not going to expand the runaway.

"We still want to be good neighbors, and we want to take care of our neighbors and we don't want to offend our neighbors, so we'll do everything we can to keep up our good record of minimal complaints," Werter said.

The other man running for the Airport Authority board is Matt Mercer, an attorney, small business owner and general aviation pilot.

He did not return calls for comment and was unavailable Monday at his office.

Mercer wants the airport's old name back -- St. Augustine Airport -- as the first step in his commitment to the people who like the airport the way it is. He is against the Airport Authority's efforts to bringing in another air carrier.

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