New Panama City Airport Clears Legal Hurdle

The new international airport in Panama City, Fla., the nation’s first new airport since Sept. 11, 2001, continues under way without interruption, following an appellate court’s denial yesterday of a motion that would have halted construction.  The injunction had been sought from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife and two other environmental organizations.   Randy Curtis, the airport’s executive director, told CPN that the airport authority’s ability to overcome these obstacles (this was the sixth consecutive court ruling in favor of the airport, according to the airport authority) rests on “doing the proper planning, and doing it right, from the very beginning.”   After it became clear more than 10 years ago that the Panama City-Bay County International Airport, simply couldn’t be expanded to meet growing air traffic to that section of Florida’s panhandle, the airport authority, the Panama City-Bay County International Airport and Industrial District, targeted a site about 10 miles northwest, across West Bay.  The 4,000-acre site of the new airport, which broke ground in November, is part of a “large-scale land use planning effort,” Curtis explained, the 75,000-acre West Bay Area Sector Plan. That land, most of which is owned by the St. Joe Co., covers an area larger than the District of Columbia.  Nearly 10,000 acres will be set aside under a conservation easement. Some areas that have been used for tree farming by St. Joe for many years will no longer be farmed, and environmental restoration will include removal of numerous roads and ditches, Curtis said. The new airport itself will feature on-site treatment of storm water and a LEED-certified terminal building.  “The goal,” said Curtis, “was that overall it would be a net benefit for the environment.”  Once the new airport is operational, the current airport property, comprising 700 acres in Panama City adjacent to North Bay, is to be sold to Community Airport Redevelopment, a subsidiary of Leucadia National Corp.