(CN) – The 2nd Circuit cleared the path for an airport in Panama City, Fla., to be moved to western Bay County, dismissing environmentalists’ claim that construction of the new airport would destroy wetlands.
The Panama City-Bay County International Airport sits on 713 acres on the Florida panhandle and is surrounded by roads, commercial and residential development and the Goose Bayou.
The airport needs to expand to comply with the FAA’s revised runway safety standards, because its two main runways are too short. But because of the airport’s location, any expansion would require re-routing highways, displacing homes and filling in parts of the bayou.
To solve the problem, the airport’s state-chartered owner, the Panama City-Bay County Airport and Industrial District, proposed moving the airport to West Bay County. The St. Joe Company, Florida’s largest private landowner, agreed to donate about 4,000 acres to build the new airport.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife and Friends of PFN argued that the new site would require destroying more than 1,500 acres of wetlands, which serve as potential habitat for protected species such as the American alligator, the woodstork, the ivory-billed woodpecker and the flatwoods salamander.
When the Federal Aviation Administration approved the relocation plan, the environmental groups filed an emergency motion to stay, claiming the agency’s decision violated the Airport and Airway Improvement Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
They said the FAA failed to consider the environmental impact of 3 million square feet of development that the new airport would inevitably induce. They also accused the agency of narrowly focusing its analysis on the wetlands and failing to consider the project’s impact on West Bay and surrounding counties.
In a 40-page opinion, the federal appeals court in New York determined that the FAA did not abuse its discretion in limiting its analysis to West Bay alternatives and properly considered how the project would affect surrounding areas.
The FAA’s decision complied with federal requirements, the court concluded.