Our Call: Future of airport is not just a city issue, but a county one

Editorial

If, like us, you spent significant time at St. Louis Lambert International Airport over Thanksgiving, you know you have a stake in how the airport is operated.

The city of St. Louis has been marching toward privatizing the region’s international airport for over a year, but so far St. Louis County and the region have been excluded from the closed-door discussions.

By a quirk of city-county split governance, the city owns the airport even though it’s physically located in the county. Is this fair? City residents and officials probably think so. Billionaire megadonor Rex Sinquefield seems to think so.

Over and over when we hear both city and county residents discussing airport privatization, they don’t really know what the benefits or hardships would be or what it might do for the region or the city.

No one seems to know much about airport privatization at all, let alone what the new management might mean for the county.

It’s clear that someone needs to do a study, and not one funded by Sinquefield, who clearly made up his mind for privatization long ago.

Although the process has been going on for more than a year, the proposals that companies just submitted to operate the airport are only being discussed behind closed doors.

All we know is that the Sinquefield-led process appears to be nearing some sort of end.

County Executive Sam Page and County Council Presiding Officer Ernie Trakas want the county Port Authority to fund a study into privatization and what it means for the region, but board members are hesitant to insert themselves into city business.

We don’t buy that argument, and the port board should do this study.

The county has been subsidizing the city’s business for many years, including the St. Louis Zoo and the Zoo-Museum District, the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, Metro buses and MetroLink, the football stadium downtown — we could go on.

Time after time, county residents have shown their support to causes that benefit not just them and not just the city, but the entire region. In that same spirit, the city needs to bring the county into the privatization process.

Our only criticism of the effort by the council and Page to wade into the privatization debate is that it might already be too late. But it’s better late than never, as anyone who’s taken a delayed flight knows.