Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Lambert Director Has Mixed Feelings on Privatization, Pushes Congress on Higher Fees

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Lambert Director Has Mixed Feelings on Privatization, Pushes Congress on Higher Fees

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON * The director of St. Louis Lambert International Airport said Thursday she's keeping an open mind about a proposal to privatize its management.

Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge also said she has reservations about the shift's potential to steer more money from the airport to the city.

Mayor Francis Slay traveled to Washington this week to ask for St. Louis' inclusion in a Federal Aviation Administration pilot program to study leasing airport operations to a private business.

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and Lyda Krewson, the Democratic nominee for mayor, have said the idea deserves examination, and political mega-donor Rex Sinquefield has made a six-figure commitment to help pay for the application.

The FAA could decide this month whether to include Lambert in the program, starting a decision-making process that could take at least a year. If the change were made, the city still would own the airport and land while a private company leases it.

"There's not a lot of those (arrangements) in the country, so that makes you wonder a little bit" about the long-term implications, said Hamm-Niebruegge, the airport's director since 2010. "Clearly there's some short-term value."

The city draws about $6 million annually from the airport, and a public-private partnership could bring an "immediate" infusion of more funds, according to the city. It also could allow more money to go toward other, nonairport projects an idea panned by Hamm-Niebruegge, who testified to a U.S. Senate panel in Washington on Thursday about the country's need for more investment in airports.

Congress is considering how infrastructure projects might fit into the FAA's reauthorization legislation.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, asked Hamm-Niebruegge why Lambert needs more money when St. Louis already "siphons off" millions of dollars. She replied that the city invested a lot of money building the airport, and Lambert's annual payments are a return on that investment.

President Donald Trump has touted infrastructure spending as a centerpiece of his agenda, and as a candidate he said U. …

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