October 30, 2008

Panama City – Bay County Airport and Industrial District Prevails on Challenge to Its Federal Permit

The Panama City - Bay County International Airport and Industrial District (Airport Authority) received a Final Order in U.S. District Court in the Florida Clean Water Network, National Resource Defense Council and Defenders of Wildlife's challenge to environmental permits issued on the Airport Authority's project for a new international airport in West Bay.

In February, 2008 the Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit challenging the legality of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit and attempted to obtain a temporary restraining order to suspend the permit and stop the construction of the Northwest Florida's new airport. The Court denied the Plaintiffs' Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order

In his ruling issued today, Judge Timothy J. Corrigan of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville Division found that "the record supports that the Corps considered the concerns raised by those who opposed the project and the comments of those who favored it, it considered the FAA's position, and it considered the goal of the Authority before determining that the project purpose should appropriately include flexibility for growth opportunities sufficient that international charter operations could use the airport."

The Court further found that "the Corps considered the record before it, including the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) prepared by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and the West Bay Vision Plan (which, as noted above, envisions a fifty year regional development plan anchored by the relocated Airport), and determined that compatibility with these local and regional comprehensive planning efforts was a necessary and not incidental component of the project...(T)he County looked to use the airport project as a centerpiece to stimulate economic development in the region at the only site that could accommodate growth and FAA safety and military airspace concerns while avoiding hurricane storm surges..."

"I am thrilled with the court's decision. This has been a long fought battle and I am pleased that the court has vindicated our decision and the decision of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers," said Joseph Tannehill, Chairman of the Airport Authority. "As the federal court noted, this airport project is the centerpiece to stimulate economic development. There's no better time in the history of Bay County, considering these economic times, than for us to have this project at this stage at this time."

Judge Corrigan's opinion dismissed with prejudice the Plaintiffs' claims pertaining to the Clean Water Act Section 404 permit which the Plaintiffs brought against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Army Corp of Engineers under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA).

"This Airport and the West Bay Sector Plan represent unique opportunities for Northwest Florida," said Bill Cramer, Vice Chairman of the Airport Authority. "For once economic development can be advanced in unison with environmental protection. We appreciate the court's judgment on our project and we will continue to proceed toward our projected opening of May 2010."