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County moves forward with St. Joe Company as private partner for potential airport project

The Gulf County Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted last Tuesday to officially move forward with a public-private partnership with the St. Joe Company for the potential construction of a county airport.

But not without question from the public.

Several members of the community stood to speak at the board’s most recent meeting, voicing concerns they had about the project, including the size of the proposed lot it’ll sit on, noise levels and whether or not the need for the facility truly exists.

“The private side is now going to engage with us and try to work out a comprehensive agreement,” said County Attorney Jeremy Novak to the commissioners. “ And we’ll bring that back to you to approve it, but I want to emphasize that the public is engaged and involved with the entire process.”

The board’s comes about a month after the potential partnership was first presented during their March meeting.

There, the commissioners voted unanimously to allow County Administrator Michael Hammond to begin negotiating with the St. Joe Company should no other applications be received for the project before April 24, which none were.

Now, the county will work to execute a comprehensive plan with the St. Joe Company, which lays out details for the project.

According to county officials, any airport constructed would support only private and small-scale air traffic.

“This is not going to be a Panama City Beaches Northwest Florida International Airport… Right now this is not going to accommodate Delta and Southwest. Now 20, 30 years from now it might grow into something bigger,” said Hammond at the March meeting.

In the initial advertisement for proposals for the project, the county states that they “(are) seeking acreage approximately 10,000 feet long by 2,000 feet wide equating to approximately 459 acres within 10 miles of Port St. Joe and within five miles of the Apalachicola Northern Railroad for the roosed future construction and operation of the Gulf County Regional Airport.”

The eventual facility, if constructed, would be owned by the county and leased by the private partner, in this case, The St. Joe Company.

At this point in time, the county has no money tied up in the project, as was stated during the April meeting.

“Right now, Gulf County has zero money in this,” Hammond said. “The proposal is for the St. Joe Company to give us 480 acres of land, millions of dollars worth of property, and then we will go out and get grants.”

But citizens took to the stand to raise further questions.

Mike O’Neal, a representative from the Gulf Rifle Association took to the stand to voice his concern over the project’s proposed size.

“Some of our members have expressed doubt about the necessity of having a county airport 10,000 feet long,” he said. “… Look at Apalachicola.”

O’Neal, along with other members of the public, pointed out that Franklin County’s airport, which was constructed shortly after World War Two, has not been the economic engine for the county officials once claimed it would be.

The Franklin County Board of County Commissioners recently put together a board to oversee their airport in the hopes of prompting job growth and development around the facility, which has been lacking.

“There’s no houses within a mile of (the proposed site), and the closest houses would be in White City,” Hammond said, addressing some of the voiced concerns. 

“Just because it’s 10,000 feet long does not mean it’s going to be at 10,000 foot runway. It will probably be much less than that, but for clear space, we asked for 10,00 feet.”

Gulf County officials stressed that they were still very early in the planning process for the airport, and that several rounds of public hearings would be necessary a little further down the line.

But, they say they hope to come up with a plan that they say will allow for further economic development and job growth in the area.

Novak stated that the county’s goal was to have a comprehensive agreement worked up with a private partner for the project by the end of this summer. 

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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