Panama City-Bay County Airport Planning to Focus on Airport Relocation Project

Jan. 17--PANAMA CITY -- The Airport Authority's executive board will meet Friday to hash out upcoming issues, predictably focusing much of their 2006 workshop on the planned airport relocation project.

"We're going to talk about financial planning and construction costs," said Executive Director Randy Curtis. "Hopefully we'll select a bond underwriter, and we intend to make a final selection for construction management."

The Panama City-Bay County International Airport is slated to move to a 4,000-acre site at West Bay, though the timetable for the move is now less certain.

The Federal Aviation Administration has delayed the date for completion of its final environmental impact statement, or EIS -- the last hurdle before a record of decision that makes way for groundbreaking at the new site.

The EIS had long been anticipated for completion by late last year. But an integral part of financing the move is the sale price of the existing airport property, which some have said could draw as much as $100 million.

Curtis said the new timetable puts the EIS arriving in early May with a record of decision following thereafter.

The pushback does not mean, however, that the relocation project is in jeopardy, Curtis said.

"Not by any means, (the FAA) is just being very conservative in their approach on this project," Curtis said. "They want to make sure that they've covered all the issues and have a good, strong, solid document they could defend in court."

One of the criteria for the FAA's evaluation is secondary impacts on relocation, one of which would be the redevelopment of the 713-acre airport property currently used by the airport, Curtis said.

"Within that document they need to note the potential impacts by us selling this property," he said.

The board issued a request for proposals (RFPs) for sale of the existing site late last year, and so far, Curtis said, about 30 entities have registered for information.

The figure surpasses expectations, he said.

"We're very pleased with that," Curtis said. "I know there was a lot out there, but I didn't anticipate that many."

He said the deadline for RFPs, originally set for Feb. 7, would likely be extended because of the FAA's updated timetable.

Board member Jimmy Patronis Jr. said the relocation project has been and remains a complicated process, and the extended deadline is simply part of that process.

"And even though the reasons (for the move) and rationale make good sense, in order to get from start to finish it's been challenging," Patronis said. "We're definitely charging into an area that's new to this entire board."

Curtis said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permitting should come quickly after the record of decision is completed.

"If we maintain our schedule with the sale of the property, we're looking at toward the end of the year or early next year for construction," he said.

The meeting will be in the administrative offices on the second floor of the airport, beginning at 9 a.m. Friday.