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Santa Maria customs center could come to Port San Luis 

The Santa Maria Airport is shutting down its three-year-old U.S. Customs facility and Port San Luis is being considered as a replacement site for the local inspection of foreign goods.

The airport set up the facility in hopes of attracting foreign-import businesses, in particular a French maintenance and parts supplier. But that didn’t pan out and the center has lost money every year. A staff report found it would cost up to $750,000 over the next five years to keep the center open.

Esmeralda Mendoza, vice president director of operations at Art Craft Paint Inc. of Santa Maria, said her company’s clients who need to go through customs would now have to travel to Long Beach or LAX. The change, she said, is an inconvenience and could make doing business with the company, which refurbishes airplanes, less attractive.

Jim Kunkle, owner and CEO of Central Coast Jet Center, said the elimination of customs will impact his business, too.

“We do handle a fair amount of aircraft that have to go through customs, and that will go away,” he said.

Still, airport officials said revenue required to keep the facility running wasn’t worth the overall cost to taxpayers.

“It’s approximately 5 to 6 percent of our operating cost,” said Santa Maria Airport’s general manager, Chris Hassert. “The board just wasn’t comfortable with that.”

He said the airport would have needed at least 30 flights per month to break even; in its best month, it processed seven.

In the past, management for Port San Luis had expressed interest in bringing a customs facility there. Steve McGrath, harbor manager for Port San Luis, said the former harbor manager was trained and certified to run a customs facility.

“But that authority didn’t transfer. It resided with the individual,” he said. “There is a definite desire to see it return. That conversation, we have initiated on a very preliminary basis.”

The advantage of having customs at Port San Luis, he said, is that it would 
not require the construction or upkeep 
of a facility.

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