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Wed, Nov 15, 2006

Environmentalists File Lawsuit To Stop KPFN Move

Claim Rare Bird Seen In Area

A plan approved by the FAA to move the Panama City - Bay County airport (PFN) to 4,000 undeveloped acres donated by a private landowner has raised the ire of environmentalist groups... and they're going to court over it.

In the lawsuit filed Tuesday by The Natural Resources Defense Council, The Defenders of Wildlife, and Friends of PFN states the agreement violates federal law.

"Ultimately what we are going to request is that they throw out the FAA decision because the law requires the agency choose the alternative that would cause the least amount of damage to the environment," said Melanie Shepherdson, a Natural Resources Defense Council attorney.

As Aero-News reported, the FAA gave its blessing to the plan in September. The county wants to move the airport from its current location on the opposite side of St. Andrews Bay, due to encroaching residential development that precludes needed expansion plans.

The lawsuit claims the FAA ignored several environmental laws -- including the Endangered Species Act -- as well as the Airport and Airways Improvement Act in its rush to find a new space for the growing airport.

The conservation groups also tell the Associated Press that scientists have seen a rare Ivory-billed woodpecker -- once believed to be extinct -- in a nearby river basin.

Supporters maintain the move is the best alternative available (the only other real alternative is to extend the airport's current runways into the bay) -- and that the lawsuit wasn't unexpected.

"The FAA has gone to great care to follow the various laws," said Randy Curtis, executive director of the Bay County International Airport. "We don't think [the alleged bird sighting] is going to be an issue for us. It is something we have looked at quite extensively. Where it was seen was quite a distance from the airport site."

The initial designs for the new $331 million Bay County International Airport call for the airport to take up about 1,300 of the 4,000 acres donated for the project by land developer St. Joe Co. The company also owns 78,000 acres surrounding the proposed site.

Construction is due to begin in March, with a planned 2009 opening.

FMI: http://pcairport.bechtel.com/, www.nrdc.org

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