Craig airport: A new era begins

The Jacksonville Aviation Authority has established a legacy of mistrust with its handling of the airport formerly called Craig Field.

The independent agency has long needed a more collegial management style rather than one that turned arrogance into its middle name.

With a new CEO and a new style, there is an opportunity now to build a relationship with the East Arlington neighbors and create a vision that serves the reasonable interests of neighbors and the authority.

CEO Steve Grossman got an earful during a meeting about renaming the airport. The word "predecessor" dripped from the lips of the East Arlington residents, a reference to former CEO John Clark.

Grossman clearly was not his predecessor. Standing in front of a packed room, he took the heat graciously and with humor.

A good move

He apologized for the mistaken belief that the "Craig" name could be removed from the airport. In fact, many in Jacksonville did not realize the history of James Craig, the Jacksonville native who lost his life at the Pearl Harbor attack.

On Monday, the authority changed the name of the airport to Jacksonville Executive at Craig Airport. That may not entirely satisfy some who didn't want any name change, but it did illustrate the authority is listening. Had the authority staff done more homework with the active Arlington community, however, the misunderstanding would not have occurred.

Arlington has long had an active civic community. They both demand and deserve to be included in major decisions affecting their lives.

A continued misunderstanding over lengthening Craig's runway has caused tension with the neighbors and a serious loss of faith in local government.

About 20,000 homes have been constructed in the last decade as Craig-area residents were assured that the runway would not be expanded.

Grossman said he would like to entertain a dialogue with the community about the future of Craig. That is going to be essential because the nerves of residents are worn raw from decades of fighting.

He could start by building some visible monument to Craig, the World War II hero, outside the airport. A citizen suggested this at the meeting last week, and Grossman was open to it. Involving the community in the decision would be a meaningful way to break the ice with the community.

Open dialogue

Next, Grossman needs to establish regular communications with the active community groups in Arlington. Familiarity will breed trust in this case once the authority is viewed as a partner rather than an adversary.

Though an extended runway is still in the authority's long-range plan, discussions with neighborhood groups and City Council members ought to begin to remove it. The goal would be to develop something like an inter-local agreement that would take into account the authority's business plans and the community's quality of life in the future role of the airport.

Grossman said he intends to build business at Craig. Residents need to be assured that the increased traffic won't cause more noise or disrupt their quality of life.

That can only happen with continuous communication. The authority should be given credit for helping to move noisy Apache helicopters from Craig to Cecil Commerce Center.

At the recent meeting, former City Councilman Jim Tullis expressed the anger and frustration of the residents, saying, "Citizens should not have to hire attorneys to fight their own government. That is just flat wrong."

It's also bad governance.

A new era has begun. Let's take advantage of it.