The majority of local Airport Authority members may support airport relocation, but that doesn’t mean can begin just yet.
There are still several crucial steps before relocation supporters can break ground in West Bay. The board members voted Tuesday afternoon 4 to 1 to support moving the Panama City Airport from its present site to a multi-thousand acre site a few miles east of West Bay, but a thumbs up deal from the board isn’t quite enough to seal the deal.
Tuesday vote, six years in the making, went off without a hitch. Like most insiders expected the vote was 4 to 1 with board member Jim Smallwood casting the lone dissenting vote.
Smallwood told NewsChannel Seven the move to West Bay is driven by the St. Joe Company’s bottom line.
“I don’t have a problem if it’s the St. Joe Company or Disney World or even Coca Cola wanting to develop and airport and donating the land to us. What I do have a problem with is when the public pays the bill and take the risk and the reward always goes to St. Joe.”
Smallwood went on to say the airport board was stuck in a dead end deal with St. Joe and it will end up costing the taxpayers millions of dollars to provide the infrastructure needed for the new airport.
Bill Cramer told the meeting he was a strong supporter of relocating the airport.
“A yes vote today just continues the process. Anything we do today cannot irrevocably bind future boards. If we need to renegotiate we can.”
Tuesday’s step was a big one, but there are several more needed before construction can begin in West Bay.
The FAA still has to complete its review of its environmental impact study, and the state and federal governments still must approve $220 million for funding the project.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must still issue land use permits. If all the steps are met airport supporters home groundbreaking for the new facility could be as early as this coming December. Overall construction could take up to five years.