The Panama City-Bay County International Airport and Industrial District has received a Section 404 Permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the construction of the relocated Panama City-Bay County International Airport on land being donated by The St. Joe Company (JOE).
With receipt of the permit, the airport authority has completed the federal and state permitting necessary for the relocation of the airport and will now enter the construction phase of the project.
“This final major permit represents a significant achievement that started with a commitment by Bay County, the State of Florida, JOE and local environmental leaders to create an airport that would serve Northwest Florida for many decades to come and at the same time permanently protect West Bay, ensuring it remains the most pristine bay in Florida forever,” said Peter S. Rummell, chairman and CEO of JOE. “With the relocation of the airport comes the creation of the West Bay Preservation Area and an opportunity to protect 41,000 acres of the West Bay watershed, including 33 miles of undeveloped shoreline and an additional 44 miles of tributaries and creeks.”
“This is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Rummell. “Through the West Bay Sector Plan, Bay County will be able to chart its future for decades. The relocation of the airport creates a platform to attract better air service and new jobs — and remarkably, it also makes the permanent protection of West Bay possible. Mother Nature is the best place-maker of all time, and now we will be protecting forever some of her best work.”
The Section 404 permit was the final permit necessary before the authority can begin construction of the relocated airport.
In conjunction with this Section 404 permit, JOE recorded a conservation easement for 9,609 acres (3,900 ha) in November 2006 for implementation of a mitigation plan by the airport authority for environmental impacts of the relocation and construction of the Panama City-Bay County International Airport. The easement becomes permanent and a part of the West Bay Preservation Area upon commencement of construction of the new airport.
Previously, JOE agreed to donate 4,000 acres (1,600 ha) to the airport authority when all permits and funding for relocation is in place. The new airport site is located north and northwest of the airport mitigation area and north of West Bay in a recently-harvested planted-pine plantation.
The New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council had previously filed a challenge to the Record of Decision by the Federal Aviation Administration authorizing the airport relocation. However, the ROD remains in force until a federal court rules otherwise.