The FAA has awarded a $72 million grant for the relocation of Panama City-Bay County International Airport (PFN) in Florida.
Those funds will be added to $67 million in grants from the Florida Department of Transportation for the airport relocation project, which has been in the works since 1995, when a study indicated that the airport was rapidly outgrowing its present location.
According to Randy Curtis, executive director of Panama City-Bay County Airport and Industrial District, state officials and the FAA conducted studies into the needs of aviation in the Sunshine State and determined that a new facility was necessary to handle anticipated growth.
“The studies were done independent of one another,” Curtis stated.
Expansion of the current airport’s infrastructure and operations is not possible because of a lack of land and air traffic conflicts with Tyndall Air Force Base.
Three sides of the 700-acre airport are bordered by dense residential areas and a major highway, according to Curtis. On the fourth side is the bay, which is environmentally sensitive. “We looked at expanding into the bay by filling it in, but that idea was rejected,” he said. “We can’t go the other way because of all the homes and businesses that would have to be condemned and the streets that would have to be relocated.”
In September 2006 the FAA signed a Record of Decision selecting a new airport site about 20 miles northwest of Panama City. The 4,000-acre parcel was donated to the airport authority by The St. Joe Co., one of Florida’s largest real estate companies and the state’s largest private landholder. The company also donated another 9,600 acres for wetland and habitat protection. Value of the donated land for the airport is estimated at $12 million.
The new airport will have an 8,400-foot primary runway and a 5,000-foot crosswind runway.
Initially just 1,300 acres of the property will be developed. The existing facilities will be decommissioned once operations are moved to the new site, which is expected to be finished by 2009.
The FAA also will transfer the airport’s federal grant obligations to the new location. Once the new facility is operational, the old property will be released for non-aeronautical use. The existing site has already been put up for sale, with intense bidding from three parties. A new owner is expected to be announced soon.
The relocation has opposition. In a previous interview, Linda Young, the director of the Clean Water Network of Florida, alleged that the FAA had not done its homework before approving the site selection.
“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,” she said.
There also is opposition from the National Resources Defense Council, which alleges that the airport is unnecessary, environmentally damaging and a waste of taxpayers’ money. The NRDC alleges that the traffic at Panama City Airport has decreased since 2001, so there is no need to create a bigger airport.
“The opposition is not so much from the local environmental groups,” Curtis said. “It’s some of the national groups outside the area that are really opposed to it. As part of the land use planning for the new airport, about half of the 4,000 acres is being set aside for environmental preservation that is supported by local environmental groups.”
The Airport Authority must still acquire several environmental permits before the project can move forward. In addition, Curtis noted that they have put out to bid the primary construction aspects of the project, such as site preparation.
Total cost to relocate the airport is pegged at $331 million. Funding will be evenly divided between the federal government, the state of Florida and local sources.