Panel to Study Opa-Locka Airport's Future

Know that 800-pound gorilla in North Central Miami-Dade? The 1,800-acre entity otherwise known as the Opa-locka Airport.

Well, the County Commission moved closer last Thursday to study how the county-owned facility could better benefit residents living in communities near one of Miami-Dade's largest airports. To this end, it created a task force.

The purpose of the nine-member body -- sponsored by Commissioners Sally Heyman, Barbara Jordan and Natacha Seijas -- is to advise the Board of County Commissioners on issues relating to the development of the airport and the surrounding areas.

The motion passed 12-0, with Jordan absent. The District 1 commissioner was away because of a death in the family, she said.

''I'm just so happy it passed, even though I wasn't there,'' Jordan said by telephone Monday.

''I'm anxious to have things move aggressively.''

The task force's nine members, who will be appointed by County Manager George Burgess, will include four people who live or work near the airport, two who have showed expertise in the field of airport and aviation-related development; two who have demonstrated expertise in economic, finance and banking activities and impacts tied to the development of airports and their surrounding communities, and one who has demonstrated expertise in other fields of airport-related development.

The task force will explore and make recommendations to the county commission regarding alternatives for the ''successful continued development'' of the airport, ''with a view toward achieving environmentally sound, compatible, financially feasible development that maximizes the best potential of Opa-locka Airport and the surrounding areas,'' according to a copy of the resolution.

The task force will provide a preliminary report to the commission within 90 days and a final report with detailed recommendations for the airport's future development within one year after that date.

The Opa-locka Airport, the largest of Miami-Dade County's five general aviation airports, handles a variety of private, pleasure and business flights and is a reliever for Miami International Airport.

In 2001, the County Commission unanimously voted to block consideration of expanding Opa-locka Airport to begin handling passenger traffic, a move that was applauded by residents in Miami Lakes, Hialeah, and Opa-locka.

Residents opposed the plan over fears of increased aircraft noise and traffic congestion.