In the fight over plans to expand Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, the protests of nearby homeowners concerned about noise and being forced out of their homes usually ring the loudest.
But Tuesday, hundreds of people wearing yellow T-shirts gathered at the Broward County Convention Center to call for growth.
"We need to show the commissioners that there are people in all of Broward County that are concerned we aren't keeping up with infrastructure," said Terry Stiles, chairman of Stiles Corp., a Fort Lauderdale-based developer. "If we do nothing, it's a worse environmental situation because of the pollution created by planes circling and stacking up 10 deep."
Several of the people who went to the public hearing, organized by the Federal Aviation Administration, said they were employees of Stiles Corp. Stiles said their T-shirts sporting pro-expansion messages were provided by the Broward Workshop, a group of influential business leaders, which also bused supporters to the event.
Opponents like Yvonne Siegrist, 65, a resident of the Everglades Mobile Home Park in Davie, were in the minority. Siegrist complained that the roar of FedEx jets from the airport begins daily at 5:30 a.m. over her home and would only grow worse.
"Sure, it would position us for the future, but do we need another Miami?" she asked.
Before the hearing, attended by about 400 people, the public milled about a room filled with various expansion scenarios and charts. One option keeps the airport at its current size.
So far, the County Commission's preferred alternative has been to lengthen the south runway from 5,600 to 8,000 feet and widen it from 100 to 150 feet. The cost: almost $700 million, with more than 1,000 homes affected by noise.
Many in the business community also support that plan.
Commissioners are expected to vote June 5 on which proposal they want. Assuming they approve expansion, they will still have to pick a contractor and help neighboring homeowners soundproof their homes or relocate. At the earliest, the project would be completed in 2012.
Commissioner John Rodstrom predicts some sort of expansion will pass, but said he will oppose it. Rodstrom's district includes parts of Dania Beach and Davie near the airport.
"I believe the data that was generated by the consultant is absolutely flawed," he said. "I don't see why you need to do it."
Billy Witcher, a commercial pilot from Davie, said the status quo is unacceptable and a small number of homeowners shouldn't control the issue. He said the airport has only one runway that accommodates his plane's large wingspan.
"To us, that airport is a one-runway airport. Everything stacks up," he complained.
Also in attendance was Howard Greenberg, senior vice president and general manager of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Greenberg spoke at the hearing, saying the newspaper supports the expansion.
Randy and Pat Wright, who live just south of the airport in Dania Beach, were not clad in yellow. "We're not against expansion -- there's just got to be a way to do it where it doesn't impact so much," Pat Wright said.
Her husband was less conciliatory. "If they are going to expand it this way, I personally want to be bought out. The noise is going to be terrible," he said. "They fly so close, I can see the pilot, the color of his eyeballs!"
After listening to the complaints of local homeowners, Barbara Vosk, a senior citizen from Tamarac who had come out to support the expansion, changed her mind: "I was a supporter until I heard all the human misery."
The FAA will issue a final report by spring 2008 looking at the environmental impact of the airport's expansion.
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