Judge denies attempt to halt construction at new Fla. county airport

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy J. Corrigan has denied airport opponents' third attempt to halt construction at the new Panama City-Bay County International Airport. Airport Authority Chairman Joe Tannehill said construction was proceeding unrestricted, in accordance with permits, and on schedule. The new airport is being built on a 4,000-acre site in northwestern Bay County on land that was donated by The St. Joe Company...

• Judge's order marks third ruling in a row allowing construction to move forward

PANAMA CITY, FL, Feb. 15, 2008 -- The Panama City-Bay County International Airport and Industrial District (Airport Authority) announced that U.S. District Court Judge Timothy J. Corrigan has denied airport opponents' third attempt to halt construction at the new Panama City-Bay County International Airport. Airport Authority Chairman Joe Tannehill said construction was proceeding unrestricted, in accordance with permits, and on schedule. The new airport is being built on a 4,000-acre site in northwestern Bay County on land that was donated by The St. Joe Company.

The Florida Clean Water Network Inc. had requested a preliminary injunction to halt construction of the new airport. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Citizens for the Bay and Defenders of Wildlife subsequently joined Florida Clean Water Network in the lawsuit. The lawsuit was brought against the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. On Feb. 14, 2008 following a hearing in Jacksonville, United States Federal District Court Judge Timothy J. Corrigan denied the requests for a preliminary injunction. Yesterday's denial follows a similar denial on Feb. 5, 2008 when Judge Corrigan denied the opponents' request for a Temporary Restraining Order to halt construction.

In denying the motion for a preliminary injunction the Court said:

"The Court finds plaintiffs have failed to carry their burden of demonstrating they are substantially likely to prevail on any of their NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) or CWA (Clean Water Act) claims against the Corps. Specifically, plaintiffs have failed to show that the Corps acted arbitrarily and capriciously or abused its discretion in defining the purpose, in evaluating the alternatives, in assessing the cumulative and indirect impacts, in declining to supplement the EIS regarding the dewatering issue, in relying on the Fish and Wildlife Service's Biological Opinion to reach decision as to the effect the project on the flatwoods salamander and other species and biota, in assessing the mitigation plan or in any of the broader or narrower explications of these issues suggested by plaintiffs."

"Plaintiffs having failed to demonstrate a substantial likelihood of success as to any of their claims against the Corps, the Court need not determine whether the other prongs of the injunction standard are met."

"As for plaintiffs' claims against the Fish and Wildlife Service brought under the Endangered Species Act, the parties disagree as to the appropriate standard upon which to review these claims, but the Court finds that even the standard argued by plaintiffs does not support the issuance of a preliminary injunction as plaintiffs have not demonstrated (to a substantial or even reasonable likelihood) that the Biological Opinion issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service violated the procedural or substantive requirements of the Endangered Species Act."

"Judge Corrigan's ruling was the best we could have hoped for at this juncture," said Airport Authority Vice Chairman Bill Cramer, who attended the hearing in Jacksonville. "Airport opponents have not established a substantial likelihood of success in their arguments against the new airport. As we have said from the beginning, the FAA did a complete and thorough analysis of alternatives before issuing its Record of Decision to relocate the airport. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did an equally thorough analysis before issuing the Section 404 Permit. Every step of the way, the Airport Authority has sought to exceed what is required. We have been very diligent in managing this project, and our success in Court to date underscores that."

"It's taken nearly a decade of hard work and analysis to get to this point," said Tannehill. "We have completed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). We have a Record of Decision. We have applied for and received more than twenty different permits, an approved financial plan including local, state and federal funding, and we have sold the existing airport site," said Tannehill. "It's taken hard work from dozens of local, state and federal agencies to get to this point. Now, with construction underway, we fully expect to open our new airport in 2010."

"We look forward to delivering the air service, economic development and environmental benefits of this project to this region's residents and visitors alike," said Tannehill.

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