Broward Commission Votes to Expand Runway at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport

Jun. 6--A second major runway will be built on the south side of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport after county commissioners ended two decades of debate and gave their go-ahead to the long-delayed expansion plans early Wednesday morning.

The commission agreed on a 6-3 vote to proceed with lengthening the current commuter runway to 8,000 feet, bridging over both Federal Highway and the Florida East Coast Railroad tracks. In doing so, the commissioners rejected halting any further expansion at the airport, lengthening the south runway less or building a new runway just north of the current main runway.

Estimates are that the runway will cost $695 million to build and will require the county to buy or soundproof the homes of up to 2,500 nearby residents. The project still must be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, a decision that is expected by the end of the year.

"We come to a decision that is long overdue and one which no one takes lightly," Mayor Josephus Eggelletion said. Eggelletion was joined by commissioners Stacy Ritter, Ken Keechl, Ilene Lieberman, Kristin Jacobs and Diana Wasserman-Rubin in favoring the plan. Commissioners John Rodstrom, Suzanne Gunzburger and Lois Wexler opposed it.

Commissioner John Rodstrom accused his colleagues of making a hasty and unnecessary decision. He said the commission was relaying on flawed data about travel projections and did not know enough about how much the runway, neighborhood assistance to offset noise and the subsequent need for new gates will cost.

"It is damn wrong and is a disservice to us," Rodstrom said. "We would be criticized for not making a decision, but we will also be criticized for making a decision without the proper financial information. I'm shocked."

The vote came just before 1:30 a.m. after 4 1/2 hours of public testimony and another two hours of debate among the commissioners.

Concerns about noise and overdevelopment clashed Tuesday night with calls for the area's airport to handle more flights and passengers without lengthy delays.

Broward County commissioners faced a largely hostile crowd as they met to decide whether to build a second major runway at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. More than 1,000 people packed the county convention center, jeering any who favored expansion and cheering those who did not.

The heckling became so extreme that commissioners once threatened to have deputies clear the room. Deputies escorted environmental activist Brenda Chalifour from the convention center in handcuffs after she tried to speak without permission. Chalifour was ticketed on a charge of trespassing and released on her own recognizance, sheriff's spokesman Mike Jachles said.

Earlier Tuesday, commissioners toured the neighborhoods nearest the airport to the south and west to listen to planes landing and taking off. If they decide to expand the airport, the county could have to buy or soundproof as many as 2,500 homes in the noisiest areas around the new runway.

The airport has long relied on three runways: a 9,000-foot main north runway, a 5,276-foot south runway and a 6,930-foot crosswind runway. The crosswind runway traditionally is used only in emergencies, while the south runway is too short for major commercial jets and is used primarily by private aircraft.

Lengthening the south runway to 8,000 feet would cost $694 million . Another option is lengthening it to 6,001 feet at a cost of $523.5 million, but would do less to reduce delays .

The expected vote would bring to an end two decades of debate over the runway. Concerns raised by the opponents prompted commissioners to retreat four years ago and order a new detailed study.

The airport has touted the runway as needed to alleviate delays from the expected growth in air travel. If no new runway is built, aviation consultants estimate delays will top 26 minutes on average by 2020, four times what is considered acceptable.

Opponents argued Tuesday that the plans remain flawed and the runway was not needed.

Officials from Dania Beach and Davie, the two cities that would be most affected by a longer south runway, called on the county to review the data being used to justify another runway. They said traffic at Fort Lauderdale has increased only while that at Miami International Airport has declined and that Miami has enough capacity to handle more flights.

"You can't ignore the reality of the data and the facts when it so affects the environment and people's lives," Dania Beach City Commissioner Ann Castro said.

Most residents complained about how the loud noise of commercial jets would harm their ability to enjoy their homes, sit on their patios or work in their gardens. Some held up pictures of their homes, and others became emotional and charged that the commission was bowing to the will of the business community.

"You wasted our money before, and you're getting ready to waste it again," said Fay Bartelmes of Dania Beach.

Largely outnumbered, business executives and residents from elsewhere in Broward urged the commission to expand the airport. They said it was crucial to the tourism-based economy as well as to residents who live here that travel.

"It would be a travesty if the first impression and the last impression people have of Broward County is less than five-star," said public relations executive Kathy Koch, noting the high-end hotels being built along the beach.

Even after a decision by the county, the Federal Aviation Administration must approve a new runway. That could happen by the end of the year, allowing design and construction work to begin early next year and be completed by 2014.

The 8,000-foot option would require it to bridge over Federal Highway and the Florida East Coast Railroad. The runway would slope slightly upward west to east to reach a height of about 45 feet above the roadway and rail tracks.

In addition, the airport would have to close the crosswind runway and buy part or all of the nearby Wyndham Fort Lauderdale Airport Hotel. About 15 acres of wetlands also will be destroyed, but the airport will pay for improvements to West Lake Park to offset the damage.

"We ask you to demonstrate leadership for all of Broward County," said construction executive Terry Stiles in urging support for the 8,000-foot runway.

But Mike McKeever, a commercial pilot and Dania Beach resident, questioned the safety of a sloped runway: "If you vote for this, you will be voting for the albatross of runways."

Scott Wyman can be reached at swyman@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4511.

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