It's been a long time coming but it appears Florida Keys Marathon International Airport may finally have an operational U.S. Customs and Border Protection international-entry checkpoint next month.
Councilman Dan Zieg told the City Council at its meeting Tuesday that one of the final inspections by the agency was completed that day.
"We anticipate the keys will be handed over to Customs next week after a [certificate of operation is] obtained," Zieg said. "We'll give them two weeks to staff it. We're looking probably at mid-March for an opening but since it's the government, we'll push it back a week or two."
Thomas Henderson, assistant director of airports for Monroe County, confirmed Zieg's timeline.
"The Customs national team has been overseeing the project and facilities around the country," Henderson said. "We did the final punch list and they're happy with everything."
Henderson said there isn't an official date for when the facility will open. But when it does, it's scheduled to have hours from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday. The office will have one full-time Customs agent, which is projected to cost $150,000 annually. Costs would be picked up through user fees.
It's being built by Big Pine Key contractor Pedro Falcon Electrical Contractors through a Monroe County contract for $1,091,403. The facility must be bombproof, including the windows, to meet U.S. Department of Homeland Security requirements.
The international port of entry could expand tourism-related business in Marathon.
According to a 2012 study by University of Miami Professor Manuel Santos, chairman of UM's Department of Economics, the Customs facility could generate $38.7 million in trickle-down revenue for the Middle Keys. His study also states it could create permanent jobs.
Ray Schaub, an economist at the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida, read Santos' report and told the Keynoter in 2012 that he disagrees with some of the numbers. Schaub said there could be a smaller economic impact.
But city officials are relying on the airport becoming a stepping-off point for trips to Cuba, and vice versa. But Marathon has no commercial air service, just private planes in general aviation. The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District uses it, too.