The FAA has given approval for the relocation of Panama City-Bay County International Airport (PFN) in Florida.
In a Record of Decision signed Sept. 15, the FAA selected a replacement airport site located approximately 20 miles northwest of Panama City, after ensuring the Panama City-Bay County Airport and Industrial District’s proposal met all environmental and safety guidelines.
According to Kip Turner, the airport’s executive assistant, the relocation was made possible in part due to the donation of 4,000 acres from The St. Joe Company, one of Florida’s largest real estate companies and the state’s largest private landholder. The agreement also places a conservation easement on an additional 9,600 acres for wetland and habitat protection.
The new airport will have an 8,400-foot primary runway and a 5,000-foot crosswind runway.
“The project will be paid for in part by the proceeds from the sale of the current 713 acres that the airport sits on,” said Turner. “We may also do bond sales if we need to and there is always the State of Florida Department of Transportation and the AIP (Airport Improvement Program) funds through the FAA.”
Turner did not know the current estimated cost of the project, but recalled that eight years ago it was set at $312 million.
Initially just 1,300 acres of the property will be developed.
“We will have plenty of room to grow,” he said. “As it stands now, we are busting at the seams. Currently we have two FBOs and several feeder services. The new airport will be able to accommodate larger aircraft and direct airline service.”
The project has opposition. One of the most vocal groups is the National Resources Defense Council, which alleges that the airport is unnecessary, environmentally damaging and a waste of taxpayers’ money.
General Aviation News made several attempts to reach an official from the council but our calls were not returned by press time. We did, however, receive a press release from the NRDC outlining their complaints and concerns.
According to the release, traffic at the Panama City Airport has decreased over the last several years. Members of the organization have visited the airport with video cameras and describe it as “a ghost town,” saying that the number of commercial scheduled flights in and out of the airport “has dropped in half” since 2001.
“Given that traffic at the current airport has dropped dramatically, there’s no demand for this new one, which would destroy nearly 2,000 acres of wetlands that protect water quality and provide a buffer against storms,” said Melanie Shepherdson, an attorney at the NRDC.
According to the NRDC, the relocation project will necessitate filling in nearly 2,000 acres of wetlands and burying more than a mile of streams. In addition, they allege that 7,000 additional acres of wetlands would be lost to the development of strip malls and subdivisions that would follow construction of the airport.
In July, 13 Florida conservation organizations asked the FAA to reassess its environmental impact statement for the project, according to the NRDC release. The groups allege that the agency failed to fully evaluate the environmental threats posed by building the new airport and redeveloping the site of the Panama City Airport, which would include a 250-boat marina, and commercial and residential buildings.
“The local airport authority rejected plans to expand the current airport back in 1998 because it would have harmed Goose Bayou, but the new proposal to redevelop the airport site would do just that,” said Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida, another organization that is critical of the project. “The FAA didn’t do its job.”
Turner acknowledges there is opposition to the project.
“There were some issues raised and we addressed those issues,” he said. “In addition, the FAA did a very thorough Environmental Impact Statement in its Record of Decision.”
Turner anticipates ground for the new airport will be broken in the first quarter of next year.
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