Twenty years ago, St. Louis taxpayers helped foot the bill for the most expensive public works project in our city’s history: the construction of a 9,000-foot runway at St. Louis Lambert International Airport with a $1 billion price tag. It was a costly but important investment in an airport that sees more than 14 million travelers each year, bringing business, revenue and jobs to our community.
Two decades later, things are going well at Lambert and the public is seeing a positive return on its investment with a rise in passengers and an improved credit rating. But now there is talk that the fruits of these investments might be handed over to someone else.
Mayor Lyda Krewson and Aldermanic President Lewis Reed recently approved a plan that could lead to Lambert being leased to a private operator. The plan appointed a group of consultants and advisers to look at the issue and make recommendations on the fate of the airport.
Far from being an objective group, these consultants and advisers would be paid millions of dollars if the airport is privatized. More concerning is the revelation that President Reed worked to get a big campaign donor a lucrative slice of the consultant pie. Simply put, if the airport is turned over, his donor gets rich.
Meanwhile, this plan does not guarantee the one group that should be consulted will even have a say in the matter: the St. Louis voters. Only Comptroller Darlene Green stood up for the public and voted against this plan, and she should be commended for pumping the brakes on any effort that doesn’t give the residents of our city a seat at the table.
I am sure there are pros and cons to transforming how the airport is operated, but these are things that need to be evaluated and judged by the public, not a small and select group of politically connected consultants.
State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed • D-St. Louis