November 9, 2007
The Panama City – Bay County International Airport
PANAMA CITY – BAY COUNTY AIRPORT AND INDUSTRIAL DISTRICT
HOLDS GROUNDBREAKING CEREMONY
FOR NEW PANAMA CITY – BAY COUNTY AIRPORT
Governor Crist Hails Project as a Model for
Economic Development and Environmental Preservation
PANAMA CITY, Florida (November 1, 2007) – The Panama City – Bay County International Airport and Industrial District (Airport Authority) today held a ceremonial groundbreaking initiating the construction phase its new state-of-the-art international airport.
The airport is being built in the 75,000-acre West Bay Area Sector on 1,300 acres of a 4,000-acre site being donated to the Airport Authority by The St. Joe Company (NYSE: JOE).
With this ceremony, work also soon will began on an unprecedented environmental preservation effort designed to help protect the entire West Bay watershed, an area considered one of Florida’s environmental jewels. Relocation of the airport triggers the creation of the West Bay Preservation Area, a conservation area that will permanently protect approximately 40,000 acres around West Bay, including 33 miles of undeveloped shoreline and an additional 44 miles of creeks and tributaries.
In a prepared statement, Florida Governor Charlie Crist said the new airport is “a national model for economic transformation and environmental preservation.” Crist added: “The State of Florida stands as a proud partner of this project for the new jobs it will create and the environmental jewels it will protect.”
“Though we celebrate today, tomorrow we redouble our efforts to harvest the potential of this project for the people of Northwest Florida,” said Airport Authority Chairman Joe Tannehill. “We will work together to attract better air service and high-quality jobs to our region, and we will continue to work with a range of partners to make this airport as green as it possibly can be.”
“I am very proud of the way our community pulled together to create a shared vision of better air service, stronger economic development and permanent environmental protection for West Bay,” said Tannehill.
“We have planned this property to allow this airport to serve this region and our children for the next fifty years and beyond,” said Tannehill. “At the same time, we have worked with the environmental community, the state of Florida, Bay County and St. Joe to create an unprecedented environmental preservation area that protects West Bay for those future generations.
“Over the past ten years hundreds, if not thousands of people contributed to make this day possible,” said Tannehill. “It would be impossible to recognize them all. But we do thank them. And we pledge to work harder than ever to make this airport a tremendous asset for this community, for the Panhandle, and for the entire state of Florida.”
About the Relocated Panama City – Bay County International Airport
The Panama City – Bay County International Airport and Industrial District (Airport Authority) is nearing completion of a ten-year process to relocate the Panama City – Bay County airport. The relocated airport is expected to be the first new airport built since September 11, 2001.
In late 1980s the Airport Authority began an effort to address significant deficiencies at the existing airport, including non-standard runway safety areas. 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 (NYSE: JOE).
Following the FAA’s selection of the site, the Airport Authority partnered with the State of Florida, Bay County and The St. Joe Company in an innovative planning process authorized by Florida law known as “optional sector permitting and 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 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 40,000 acres and, when fully implemented, include the provision of 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 was won statewide praise including the “2007 Promising Practices Award” from the Council for Sustainable Florida this month.
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.
In August 2007, after extensive review, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a Section 404 permit, the final permit necessary to begin construction of the airport.
In September 2007, the Airport Authority approved a contract to sell the current airport site to a subsidiary of Leucadia National Corporation of New York (NYSE: LUK) for $56.5 million in cash and an estimated $38 million in transfer fees from the sale of future properties developed on site. The current airport site is approximately 700 acres adjacent to North Bay in Panama City.
Under the Airport Authority’s current schedule, the new airport is expected to open in the first quarter of 2010.