Runway Expansion at Florida's Crystal River

County commissioners took the first step toward extending the runway at the Crystal River airport Tuesday, voting unanimously to approve a new master plan for the facility.

That means eventually the runway could be 5,000 feet - about 500 feet longer. And construction and development could cost at least $1.4-million.

But there are no building plans on the table yet.

First, consultants need to evaluate how a runway extension would affect the environment.

Eventually, commissioners will need to decide what to do about North Golf Course Lane, a road east of the runway. A longer runway would encroach on that road.

Doug DiCarlo, a consultant from Hoyle, Tanner & Associates, told commissioners that the airport is feeling the pressures of increased leisure, business and training air travel.

"There's a lot of demand," he said. "If we build the facilities, they'll come."

Already, he said, there are 30 people on a waiting list for hangars at the airport.

"If you don't build this, you're going to continue to have demand that's not met ? and you're going to turn away people that want to do business in the county," DiCarlo said.

DiCarlo told commissioners that 95 percent of the funding needed for the project could be provided by the Federal Aviation Administration. The remaining costs would be split between the Florida Department of Transportation and the county, he said.

Commissioner Dennis Damato said he was "very supportive of lengthening the runway," a project that he said would comply with the county's comprehensive plan, address safety concerns and help the county's largest taxpayer: Progress Energy.

After his comments, several dozen members of the Citrus Aviation Association in the audience applauded.

Several commissioners said they supported the idea of extending the runway, but worried about affecting nearby residents.

"What I don't want to do with the runway is create more problems with the neighborhood," Commissioner Vicki Phillips said.

That concern was echoed by Ron Neal, president of the neighboring Seven Rivers Golf and Country Club.

"We are opposed to this airport expansion, only because we fear that the water's got to go somewhere, and it's going to go on us," he said.

But county engineer Al McLaurin said county and state regulations would prevent that from happening.

Morris Harvey, representing the fiscal watch committee of the Citrus County Council, said commissioners need to discuss the way the county funds its airports before voting on any more specific plans.

But Commissioner Jim Fowler and commission Chairman Gary Bartell said Harvey should limit his comments to the issue at hand.

"You don't want to pay attention to the citizens that you're forcing to pay for this upfront," Harvey countered.

Several people spoke in favor of the extension, including airport operator Tom Davis and members of the county's Aviation Advisory Board.

"It really needs to happen," said Troy Colson, 46, of Citrus Springs. "Let's act now to get things rolling."

In other news:

n After a resident complained about code enforcement at the Margueritagrill restaurant in Homosassa, commissioners said they wanted to keep the teeth in the county's nuisance ordinance.

Mark Hanish of Homosassa said that despite a notice from code enforcement officials declaring a boat shed on the restaurant's property an "unsafe structure," the problem persists.

"It seems this piece of property just gets certain privileges," he said.

Director of Public Safety Charles Poliseno said the county sent the property's owners a notice in April, giving them 30 days to fix the problem. But he said they were granted an extension in order to secure permits.

"If this order means anything, why didn't we follow through on that?" Fowler asked.

Bartell said it was also a larger issue, noting that the county should speed up its cleanup efforts of nuisance properties.

Assistant County Attorney Michele Lieberman, who authored the county's nuisance ordinance, said the idea behind it was "if you don't do it, we will."

But limited funding for cleanup makes that difficult, she said.

"If you're going to have an ordinance and not enforce it, what's the point?" Commissioner Phillips asked.

Fowler said commissioners would find the funding.

n County staffers passed out the first issue of the county's new Senior Club magazine. Director of Community Support Services Cathy Pearson said the success of the Senior Club TV show on WYKE-TV Ch. 47 inspired the free magazine, which will come out four times per year. The magazine "will educate, entertain and highlight the most wonderful people we have," she said.

n Commissioners discussed a proposed 450-home project on 75 acres off County Road 491 and south of County Road 486. The project is just south of the 810-home Allen Plantation project.

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