Airport Forum

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Community members got a chance to ask questions about the proposed airport Thursday night at Gulf Coast Community College.

The forum, sponsored by Citizens for Bay, allowed four speakers to give their views of what a new airport will mean to Bay County.

Thursday night’s forum was a chance for people to hear from those who oppose or are still undecided about relocating the Panama City Bay County Airport. The four panelists say their opinions have yet to be heard in a public forum and this was their chance.

It was a near packed house at the Gulf Coast Community College Student Union. Bay County Commissioner Mike Ropa spoke first. His presentation set out to differentiate fact from fiction.

"Tax dollars will not be spent on airport relocation. That's fiction. It's too late. We've already spent nearly 20 million in state gas and sales taxes which came as appropriations from the state legislature."

Airport relocation supporters say that falls in line with what they've been saying all along, that local tax dollars won't be used but state and federal funds will. Also on the panel was an environmental expert who says she's worried about the wetlands that will be filled in for the new airport.

She says the Saint Joe Company's efforts at conservation are only for show, as they are requiring someone to buy the 37,000 acres of land dedicated for preservation. She says Saint Joe still hasn't named its price.

Also speaking was airport authority member Jim Smallwood. He says he's still up in the air on the whole issue.

"There are just too many question still to be answered. I'm not for the airport, but I'm not against it totally either. The forum comes just five days before area voters head to the polls to cast their vote on the non-binding airport referendum. One of the major complaints heard was the ambiguous language on the ballot.

This Tuesday's vote on the airport issue is non-binding, meaning local government officials are not obligated to follow outcome.