Panama City Gets Final State Permits to Move Airport

PANAMA CITY, Fla.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Dec. 5, 2006--The Panama City-Bay County Airport and Industrial District (Airport Authority) announced today that it had received the final State of Florida permits necessary to move forward with the relocation of the Panama City-Bay County International Airport. Issuance of the state permit clears the way for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue a Section 404 permit, the final permit necessary before construction of the new airport can begin.

All challenge periods for the State of Florida permits have expired, and the issuance of these permits concludes the state permitting process.

The state permits were issued as part of an Ecosystem Management Agreement (EMA) between the Airport Authority and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The EMA includes a comprehensive mitigation plan for environmental impacts of the relocation and construction of the Panama City-Bay County International Airport.

The EMA was reached using Florida's innovative Ecosystem Team Permitting (ETP) approach, a process whereby environmental impacts associated with the airport relocation were avoided or minimized, and a comprehensive mitigation plan was developed through consensus building between the Airport Authority, regulators, and other stakeholders, including local environmental organizations.

According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the ETP process resulted in a number of net ecosystem benefits as a result of the airport relocation, including:

-- The conservation and permanent protection of significant contiguous portions of the West Bay region, including bay shoreline, wetlands, streams, uplands and the overall watershed;

-- A wetlands function lift significantly in excess of that needed to compensate for functional losses (impacts);

-- A mitigation plan that significantly exceeds both state and federal requirements for all possible current and future impacts, and

-- An effort to restore a large contiguous tract of uplands and wetlands to approximate historical conditions more suitable for dependent species native to the area.

Last week The St. Joe Company (NYSE:JOE) recorded a conservation easement for 9,609 acres in the West Bay Sector, providing the mitigation land agreed to in the EMA. The easement becomes permanent upon commencement of construction of the new airport. It fulfills a major commitment JOE made in a land donation agreement with Airport Authority.

"Receiving the state permits represents another major milestone in the effort to relocate our airport," said Airport Authority chairman Joseph Tannehill. "We are one step closer to making our new airport a reality and one step closer to realizing this community's vision for an airport that meets all federal safety and design standards while providing us a platform to compete for better, more competitive air service."

The Airport Authority has been working for more than ten years to address deficiencies at the current airport site. In 1998 the Airport Authority abandoned an effort to extend the existing runway system into Goose Bayou because of strong local environmental opposition. In 1999 the Airport Authority began focusing on relocation as an option after the St. Joe Company, the county's largest private landowner, agreed to work with the Airport Authority to identify a suitable site for relocation.

In May 2006, after more than five years of study, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement selecting relocation to the West Bay site as its Preferred Alternative for addressing the deficiencies at the current airport site. In September 2006 the FAA issued its Record of Decision approving relocation to West Bay.

"There are obvious aviation-related benefits in relocating the airport to West Bay," said Tannehill. "But there are environmental and economic development benefits too. Relocation of the airport is the catalyst for the creation of the West Bay Preservation Area. Ultimately, tens of thousands of acres that will be permanently protected, including miles of West Bay shoreline."

"We are very proud that the mitigation plan for the airport goes above and beyond what is required by law," said Tannehill. "We have worked closely with dozens of local environmentalists to ensure that significant long-term environmental benefits will result from this relocation."

"If we continue to work together as a community and a region, I am confident that we can use this new airport as a tremendous economic development platform to attract high-quality, high-wage jobs to Bay County," said Tannehill.

"We continue to make tremendous progress. If all goes according to plan, we should be in a position to break ground on the airport next year," said Tannehill.

CONTACT: Panama City - Bay County International Airport, Panama City Randy Curtis, Executive Director, 850-763-6751, ext 203 KEYWORD: FLORIDAINDUSTRY KEYWORD: TRAVEL AEROSPACE/DEFENSE GOVERNMENT AIRLINES TRANSPORTATIONSOURCE: Panama City - Bay County International Airport