As $1.2 trillion in budget cuts loom over the country, airport officials in Okaloosa County are holding their breath as they await word on the fate of a Destin air traffic control tower.
"We're concerned and we are going to continue to monitor the situation," Deputy Airports Director Tracy Stage told The Log. "We are waiting to see what happens."
As part of the sequester put into place by 2011's Budget Control Act, the Federal Aviation Administration will close a total of 189 contract towers around the country, according to reports. As of Thursday, Stage told The Log that there had been no word that the proposed air traffic control tower in Destin would be affected by the sequester.
The FAA has not communicated with the Destin Airport on the status of the proposed federal contract tower, according to an email to The Log from FAA officials. A statement cannot be issued "until we communicate with airport on the project."
While the effects of the sequester are still unknown, officials at City Hall say they don't expect to see much of an impact from the federal budget cuts. Since the city does not have any ongoing federal funding currently, there are no real direct effects, Public Information Manager Doug Rainer told The Log Friday morning.
Destin Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Shane Moody told The Log that he has not heard of too many businesses being affected by the sequestration at this point.
Given the number of civilian contractors in the area though, Moody said there could be an adverse impact on the local economy due to mandatory furloughs that are being put in place.
"If a lot of income is being lost due to furloughs, then that's a lot of cash that is not flowing in the community," he said. "That's what we need to watch and be aware of."
As the interim president of the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council, Kay Rasmussen said the EDC and its "Defense Support" initiative will be in Washington, D.C., this week as part of a five-county Northwest Florida Defense Coalition.
"One of the topics we will be advocating for is the Destin tower," she wrote in an email to The Log.
Over the years, city and county officials have been working on plans to place a tower at the Destin Airport to help control the crowded airways over Destin. The control tower was accepted into the FAA's Contract Tower Program in early 2012.
Based on the FAA's schedule, 173 air traffic control towers at smaller airports will be closed on April 7, then another 16 towers will be set to close Sept. 30.
"We're extremely discouraged and disappointed that the FAA is taking this action," Spencer Dickerson, head of the contract tower association, was quoted as saying in a CNN article. "The rest of the FAA's budget is getting a 5 percent haircut; the contract towers are getting a 75 percent cut, because the FAA is cutting 189 of the 251 contract towers."
Contract towers are used all over the country, Stage told The Log. He said the towers are staffed with contract employees instead of FAA employees, which saves the aviation agency quite a bit of money.
According to an FAA list of towers that "could be closed," there are approximately 20 towers in Florida that could be affected by the cuts. Possible closures could be seen in Naples, Hollywood, Jacksonville, Lakeland, Ormond Beach, Miami and Orlando, just to name a few.
Looking at sweeping closures across the country, Stage said the proposed tower in Destin might be safe from the chopping block since it hasn't been constructed yet.
As for the proposed 84.5-feet tall tower in Destin, Stage said an environmental study was recently completed and once it was reviewed by the FAA, the county could move forward with designing the actual tower, site design and the design for the access road that would lead to the tower.
"We're proceeding forward," said Stage, who has spent the past six years working on the contract tower program. "We haven't stopped our efforts."
"I'm trying to remain optimistic because the airport has put a lot of time and hard work into this program," he said. "The airport is in a better position than a lot of other airports with contract programs; we really feel for our sister airports."