Sep. 18--An aircraft repair center will be built on the north side of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, even though the airport may have to spend millions to relocate it if forced to switch course on where to locate a second major runway.
Broward County commissioners agreed this summer to allow the project by Brazilian aviation giant Embraer. It's to be built on land that would be needed if a new runway is constructed north of the current main landing strip. Commissioners prefer lengthening the southern commuter runway, but the Federal Aviation Administration is studying all options and won't decide what to do about the long-delayed and controversial runway until early next year.
Initial warnings from the FAA about a potential conflict came a month before the Embraer vote in June, but the airport staff did not tell commissioners. The FAA has written to the county objecting to the Embraer project and stating that the airport would have to pay for the repair center's removal if the northern parallel runway is built.
The questions surrounding the Embraer project are deepening discontent among commissioners who already were divided over airport expansion and distrustful of the airport's administration.
"I'm not a risk-taker, and this wasn't worth rolling the dice even though Embraer is a wonderful company," said Commissioner Lois Wexler, who opposed the project. "The FAA has drawn a line in the sand and said it won't pay a penny for relocation. We should have known and should have waited."
Mayor Josephus Eggelletion disagrees.
He sees the chance as remote that the northern parallel runway will replace the southern plan that the county wants, although he agrees that the commission should have been told of the FAA concerns. Regardless, he said, the FAA decision should be made before the Embraer center is completed so the cost would be small.
"We need a well-rounded employment base and that means creating high-wage, high-value-added jobs," Eggelletion said. "That is what Embraer represents."
The Fort Lauderdale airport is the North America headquarters of Embraer, one of the world's largest aircraft manufacturers. The airport and Embraer began discussions last year about expansion, and the company eventually chose Fort Lauderdale as home for a new repair and maintenance center.
Agreements with the county commit Embraer to invest at least $8 million, but the county approved $17 million in tax-exempt bonds for the project that the company will pay for. Embraer expects to open the center within a year on the 25-acre site.
The county is seeking federal approval for the southern runway to relieve delays expected over the next 13 years as air traffic increases. The runway would be lengthened to 8,000 feet by building a bridge over Federal Highway, to handle large commercial jets.
As part of its review, the FAA is analyzing other options, including a northern parallel runway.
Critics of the current plan contend the FAA could favor the northern parallel because it could be combined with a shorter lengthening of the south runway to create three major runways at the airport. A 7,700-foot northern runway would be cheaper than the 8,000-foot southern runway and would do more to reduce delays when combined with a 6,000-foot southern runway.
County e-mails show the first warning of a conflict between the Embraer project and the northern parallel runway came on May 2 from a mid-level airport planner who had talked to the FAA.
That was 49 days before commissioners approved the project, but the airport's interim director at the time, Bob Bielek, dismissed the concern. He questioned whether the FAA was overstepping its authority by interfering with day-to-day management at the airport.
County Administrator Pam Brangaccio told commissioners last week Bielek didn't tell her of the warning, but then said: "I appreciate that he didn't in the sense that it was informal." To Brenda Chalifour, an environmental activist who is a leading opponent of the south runway, the Embraer project is an example of county officials surreptitiously forcing the construction of their favored option.
"Their vote boxes them in and limits their alternatives," Chalifour said. "It's ridiculous to allow something to be built there when you know the space might be needed."
Scott Wyman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4511.
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