Surprise Agreement on Airport Relocation Challenge

A legal challenge that could have delayed the building of a new Bay County airport has been tentatively settled.

Last December the Bay County Commission approved the land use plan or D-SAP for the airport relocation project at West Bay. The D-SAP included a 16,000 acre area the St. Joe Company plans to develop in conjunction with the new airport site.

In March of this year, the plan was challenged by private citizens and environmental groups. This challenge basically shelved plans to reclassify the 16,000 acre St. Joe site and remove its low-tax greenbelt status. This meant a loss of a half million dollars annually in additional property taxes for the county.

The case was to have gone to a State Administrative Law Judge next Monday, but Wednesday’s settlement negates the need for the hearing.

Under the agreement, St. Joe will provide an independent consultant to help Bay County in writing grant requests for the purchase of environmentally sensitive land in the West Bay Preservation Area.

The consultant will be advised by a three-member panel representing Bay County, St. Joe and the private citizen/environmental group challengers.

The county will also update its Hurricane Evacuation Study as part of the deal.

The tentative agreement still has to be approved by the Bay County Commission and the Panama City-Bay County Airport Authority.