SANFORD -- Orlando Sanford International Airport officials were sharply criticized by environmentalists this year for their handling of the eagles that were congregating along runways.
That criticism peaked in March and April when the airport received federal clearance and took down three trees containing bald eagles' nests.
Now the growing airport's budget for the next fiscal year will include money to hire a full-time employee to carry out an airport wildlife-management plan.
Sanford has teamed with Daytona Beach International Airport to hire a U.S. Department of Agriculture biologist to develop wildlife-management plans for both airports, said Sanford airport president Larry Dale.
Contracts have been signed, and work on a yearlong study that will produce the management plans should begin soon, he said.
The airport has taken down at least 200 trees as part of an interim eagle-management plan. The plan called for destroying more trees and for setting traps to catch prey, such as raccoons or opossums, which attract birds.
The airport board of directors approved the proposed budget, which also includes two additional airport-police positions, at a meeting last week.
The spending plan won't be official until the Sanford City Commission approves it.
The proposed budget includes $17 million for capital projects, the biggest being a major runway extension.
About $10 million will be spent to buy land and expand the airport's southernmost runway.
The lengthening and eventual widening of the runway would open a second runway to handle commercial jets, but airport officials have said the immediate goal is to provide relief on the main runway by moving over more general-aviation traffic.
The capital budget also includes about $250,000 for construction of an operations and police department headquarters at the main domestic terminal, Dale said. That project, which was included in the current budget, won't get started until later in the fiscal year, he said.
"I'll probably wait until at least half the year is over and look at whether our revenues and expenses are meeting projections before we start on that," Dale said.
The proposed budget also includes a 5 percent cost-of-living pay raise for employees.
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Don't panic - Our position: Chopping down trees is no way to solve Sanford airport's problem with eagles.
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