ST. LOUIS — A section of unused land at Lambert Airport in St. Louis has new occupants — honeybees.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the St. Louis Airport Authority has approved a three-year lease with Robins Apiaries, with plans to keep bee hives on a 400-square-foot piece of land north of the third parallel runway. The airport will get $75 a year in rent.
The runway was conceived in the 1990s when Lambert was a hub airport for Trans World Airlines. TWA is now defunct, and American Airlines has steadily reduced its flight schedule at Lambert, leaving little use for the third landing strip.
Jim Robins, 76, has worked with bees for 68 years. He said he was drawn to the location north of the runway because of the plentiful supply of white Dutch clover near the runways and the lack of pesticides.
"I know the airport's good because I've had bees next to the airport for a long time," Robins said while tending to hives recently in nearby Maryland Heights.
Robins said bees can fly a mile-and-a-half in any direction to retrieve nectar. The bees are nearing the end of their gathering time this time of year.
Robins learned beekeeping from his father. His son is also a beekeeper. He has kept bees in 11 states and keeps bees at about 30 locations in the St. Louis area plus others elsewhere.
At Lambert, the hives will be on a patch of land behind barricades declaring the property off limits to the public. The apiary will be north of the $1 billion runway conceived when Lambert was still a bustling hub airport.
Lambert's website said it logged 181,315 commercial operations in 2012 — down from 484,288 in 1997.
Lambert Director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge said the beekeeping contract keeps with the city's overall sustainability plan. The idea for beekeeping came through Mayor Francis Slay's "Vanguard Cabinet," a group of young professionals who advise him and advocate certain policies.
Chicago's O'Hare International and Seattle-Tacoma International airports have significant bee operations on vacant land.
St. Louis County Aviation Director John Bales, a member of the St. Louis airport commission, said the bees will not attract birds. Bird strikes have been an ongoing problem at some U.S. airports. He said the bees pose no threat to aviation.
"Honest to God," he said, "nobody's even going to know they're there."