Federal Appeals Court Denies Airport Challenge

Federal Appeals Court Denies Airport Challenge


PANAMA CITY — A federal appeals court has ended the last pending legal challenge to the relocation of the Panama City-Bay County International Airport.

In a decision handed down on May 1, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, located in New York City, denied a petition for review of the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to approve the relocation to West Bay.

The National Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife and Friends of PFN argued against the FAA and airport on January 23, 2008. The court ruling denying the petition for review ends all pending legal challenges to the airport relocation, absent a petition for rehearing or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The new airport is currently under construction and is 55 percent complete. The Panama City – Bay County Airport and Industrial Board’s current schedule anticipates a May 2010 opening for the first international airport built in the United States since Denver International Airport was completed in 1995.

The airport is being built on 4,000 acres donated by The St. Joe Company and is part the West Bay Sector Plan, a 75,000-acre regional planning effort, one of the largest ever in Florida.

The West Bay Sector Plan includes 41,000 acres of conservation land. Approximately 10,000 acres have been permanently protected through an irrevocable conservation easement to the state of Florida as a result of the relocation of the airport. Ultimately, 33 miles of undeveloped West Bay shoreline and an additional 44 miles of creeks and tributaries that feed the bay will be protected forever.

“We are very grateful to the Court for its conscientious consideration of the case,” said Airport Authority Vice Chairman Bill Cramer. “I do not believe that a petition for rehearing or appeal will be successful if attempted. Therefore, the Court’s ruling should bring full closure to all pending legal challenges. We continue to move forward building an airport that will better serve Bay County and Northwest Florida for many decades to come.”

In it’s ruling, the Court found: the FAA complied with the procedural requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act in evaluating the proposal to build the new airport at West Bay and the FAA’s decision that no prudent alternatives to the proposed West Bay Site existed was “not arbitrary, capricious, and abuse of discretion or otherwise contrary to law.”

“The Court’s action last week represents another important milestone in our effort to improve air service for the people of Bay County and Northwest Florida,” said Airport Authority Chairman Joe Tannehill. “We are now past the halfway point with construction. We are ramping up our airline and economic development marketing efforts, and we have redoubled our commitment to building and operating a ‘green’ airport. We are looking forward to opening the new airport in less than thirteen months.”