August 20, 2007
Airport Relocation Project Enters Construction
Panama City, Florida – (August 20, 2007) – The Panama City – Bay County International Airport and Industrial District (Airport Authority) announced today that it had received expressions of strong support for its airport relocation project from federal, state and local officials. The new airport will be located in western Bay County north of County Road 388 and east of State Road 79 on land being donated by The St. Joe Company (NYSE: JOE).
Earlier the Airport Authority announced the project was entering the construction phase after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) issued a Section 404 permit for the project.
“We are very gratified our community’s airport relocation project has received support at the federal, state, regional and local level,” said Airport Authority Chairman Joe Tannehill. “The new regional airport has already started to stimulate economic development, ground transportation improvements and environmental preservation in the region. We continue to achieve the milestones established by previous leaders in our region who unselfishly volunteered to help make these accomplishments a reality. We will complete our task of constructing this regional airport amidst an unparalleled preservation area, both of which will benefit our region long beyond the lives of anyone currently living.”
The Airport Authority released the following expressions of support for the project, made in response to issuance of the final permit.
Governor Charlie Crist:
“The project provides an important opportunity for the region to compete for better and more competitive air service, as well as to attract new businesses and jobs to grow and diversify the local economy.
“The Panama City-Bay County International Airport and Industrial District Project has the potential of becoming a strong economic development platform for Bay County and the Panhandle as long as it continues to be coupled with a real commitment to protecting the natural attributes that make the area so special.”
Former Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham:
"The West Bay Sector Plan is the kind of long-term planning combined with environmental protection that we need more of in Florida. It avoids the piecemeal approach, carefully considers the environment and as a result accomplishes a level of conservation and connectivity of our ecosystem that cannot be accomplished with other planning techniques.
“Opportunities like the West Bay Sector plan are rare in Florida - what makes this opportunity even more rare is the ability to protect a substantial portion of a nearly self-contained watershed, a watershed that is almost entirely owned by a single landowner. As Governor this was the type of planning that I had hoped that the Growth Management Act would inspire. Perhaps this will serve as an example to Florida's other large landowners - for Florida's sake I hope so."
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson:
“Construction of the new airport will bring many jobs to Northwest Florida and provide a boost to the local economy. It also should lead to more competition and airline choices for travelers – preventing them from having to drive to Jacksonville or other airports in search of cheaper airfares.”
U.S. Senator Mel Martinez:
“With the issuance of the final permit needed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the effort to relocate the Panama City – Bay County International Airport enters the construction phase, which is good news for everyone living in or traveling to Northwest Florida.
“The new airport will benefit the entire Panhandle, providing the opportunity to compete for better air service, to attract new businesses and jobs to the region, and it will initiate the creation of the West Bay Preservation Area, a sixty square mile conservation area that will help permanently protect the entire West Bay watershed.
“The project has been thoroughly reviewed for nearly seven years. It’s a great day for the citizens of Bay County with permitting now complete and construction soon to begin. The FAA, along with dozens of local and state reviewing agencies, has worked tirelessly on this project. We will benefit from their hard work for decades to come.
“Airport relocation and the West Bay Sector Plan will prove to be a great example of the benefit of large-scale, long-term planning. Bay County’s local leaders, business community and environmentalists have worked together to realize a vision that will benefit the entire region.”
U.S. Representative Allen Boyd:
"After literally months of study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the way is now cleared for construction of the airport. Once complete, the airport will significantly strengthen the region's transportation needs and generate new opportunities for economic development in Bay County. Additionally, the creation of the West Bay Preservation Area-a 41,000-acre conservation area-will provide vital protection to the entire West Bay watershed.
"The FAA and dozens of local and state agencies have thoroughly considered this issue and recommended a course of action designed to meet our air service needs for many years to come."
State Senator Don Gaetz:
“Today we are in an overpriced, underserved market for competitive air travel. Our region, with all its promise, is now reduced to a remote stop on a branch line. That isn’t just an inconvenience – it holds down our economy and inhibits our quality of life.
“The new airport will open a skyway between Northwest Florida and the world. We will become a point of origin and a destination for international as well as regional flights. Certainly, our tourism and second home industry will benefit. Even more important, the nation-wide and international reach of the airport will help us compete for new businesses bringing higher paying jobs.
“The implementation of the West Bay Plan, of which the airport relocation is a critical element, will also result in an unprecedented level of environmental protection. The West Bay Plan calls for protecting sixty square miles around the bay, including thirty-three miles of shoreline and forty-four miles of tributaries and creeks.”
State Representative Jimmy Patronis:
“This airport, combined with implementation of the West Bay Sector Plan, is vitally important to the future of Northwest Florida. First and foremost, it offers the opportunity to attract better, more competitive air service.
“Airport relocation also initiates the creation of the West Bay Preservation Area. This 41,000-acre conservation area will provide unprecedented environmental protection to the entire West Bay watershed. In the process, we will be creating and preserving one of the most beautiful outdoor recreation areas in the world. It is truly a unique opportunity.
“The investment that the State of Florida is making in this new facility will be repaid many times over in the decades ahead. The federal government is matching the state’s investment, which means we’re going to get tremendous bang for our buck.
“Not only is this regional airport going to benefit our local travelers, tourists and business travelers, it will also prove to be an invaluable asset to the military bases in Northwest Florida.”
Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos:
"The Florida Department of Transportation is proud to be a partner with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Airport Authority in bringing this needed transportation improvement to the citizens of Northwest Florida. The new airport will provide tremendous benefits by moving people and goods in this growing region of Florida."
Additionally, several regional business organizations voiced strong support for the airport relocation project, including:
Bay County Chamber of Commerce Chairman Steve Southerland II:
“This is an historic day for Bay County. With the permitting process now complete, we are one step closer to more competitive air service, greater economic development opportunities, and permanent protection for West Bay.
“We look forward to groundbreaking this fall – and more importantly, we look forward to the day the airport opens, making Bay County a better place to live, work and play.”
Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce Chairman David Powell:
“With permitting now complete, we are one giant step closer to having an airport that will not only allow us to compete for additional air service, but will also give us the opportunity to attract new businesses and attractions to our area. This is a tremendous economic development opportunity for the entire region, and we intend to work closely with Bay County officials to use this new airport to help expand and diversify our local economy.
“In addition, the creation of the West Bay Preservation Area, which comes as part of the relocation plan, will provide permanent protection to wetlands and wildlife habitats in the West Bay area.
“We are very pleased the project is moving to the construction phase and we look forward to groundbreaking.”
Bay County Economic Development Alliance Executive Director Ted Clem:
“Our new airport will greatly improve transportation to and from our region and provide a strong boost to our economic development efforts.
“There has been tremendous interest in our new airport, and as we move closer to groundbreaking and a construction timeline, companies will start taking a very close look at Bay County and Northwest Florida.
“Transportation is the lifeblood of so many businesses. Having a greenfield airport puts us in a very strong competitive position to attract new business and new jobs.”
Walton County Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Dawn Moliterno:
"The relocation of the Panama City - Bay County airport is very important to Walton County, and we are pleased the Airport Authority has now completed the permitting phase of the project.
"Air service in our region has been overpriced and we've been underserved for too long. This new airport will give us a competitive boost and put us in a position to win low cost air service for the region. There will be tremendous economic development opportunities too, and we will have to work hard to expand and diversify our local economy.
"We are please to see the project move on to the construction phase."
Beaches of South Walton Executive Director Kriss Titus:
"The new airport-and more competitive air service-will be a real boost for tourism across the entire region.
"Visitors to Beaches of South Walton and the region have been limited in their transportation choices in the past, and we believe the relocation of the airport and added air service will fulfill a critical need, providing travelers direct access to Northwest Florida."
Relocation of the Panama City – Bay County International Airport
The Airport Authority is nearing completion of a ten-year process to relocate the Panama City – Bay County airport. In late 1980s, the Airport Authority began an effort to address significant deficiencies at the existing airport, including non-standard runway safety areas that do not meet FAA safety standards. When local environmentalists and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection objected to extending the existing runway system into Goose Bayou, a particularly environmentally sensitive part of St. Andrews Bay, the Airport Authority began considering relocating the airport.
After working with the FAA to complete a feasibility study in 2000 and a site selection study in 2001, the Airport Authority identified a new site for the airport in northwestern Bay County (West Bay) on land owned by The St. Joe Company.
Following tentative approval of the site by the FAA, the Airport Authority partnered with the State of Florida, Bay County and St. Joe in an innovative planning process authorized by Florida law known as “optional sector planning.” The process included dozens of public meetings, data gathering, analysis and visioning for the future. The plan was approved by Bay County and the State of Florida in 2002 and detailed specific area plans were also approved in 2003. Its policies will guide future development and conservation of the West Bay area.
One of the most innovative elements of the plan, in addition to the airport and economic development provisions, is the proposed West Bay Preservation Area. The West Bay Preservation Area was designed by local and state environmental leaders to preserve the health and habitat of West Bay forever. This watershed scale plan will preserve approximately 41,000 acres and, when fully implemented, will provide for habitat corridors, open space and stream protection.
Simplified, the objective of the West Bay Preservation Area is to maintain West Bay in its present, pristine state forever. Its vision, especially when compared to the development that has occurred on Florida’s other bay front lands, holds the potential to be one of the most significant conservation measures in Florida history. The plan has won statewide praise including the “2007 Promising Practices Award” from the Council for Sustainable Florida.
In 2004, the FAA began preparing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement considering two-dozen alternatives for addressing the deficiencies at the existing airport. In May 2006 the FAA issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement, identifying relocation to the West Bay Site as its Preferred Alternative. In September 2006, the FAA issued its Record of Decision recommending and approving relocation of the Panama City airport to the proposed site in West Bay. There is currently a judicial challenge to the FAA’s ROD; however, the ROD remains in force.
The Airport Authority has secured the necessary federal and state funding for the project. The sale of the existing airport site will complete the major elements of the funding framework for relocation.
# # #