Federal Judge Throws Out Airport Challenge

PANAMA CITY – A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a challenge to the federal environmental permit needed to continue work on the new Panama City – Bay County International Airport.

The final order was issued by the U.S. District Court’s Jacksonville division in the lawsuit filed by the Florida Clean Water Network, National Resource Defense Council and Defenders of Wildlife.

The February 2008 court challenge questioned the legality of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit and sought a temporary restraining order to suspend the permit and stop construction of the new airport in West Bay.

In his ruling, Judge Timothy J. Corrigan 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 (Airport) Authority before determining that the project purpose should appropriately include flexibility for growth opportunities sufficient that international charter operations could use the airport.”

Joseph Tannehill, chairman of the Airport Authority, said the court vindicated the decision to build the airport in West Bay, making it an anchor for future development of the area.

“As the federal court noted, this airport project is the centerpiece to stimulate economic development,” he said. “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.”

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