Naples leaders set March meeting on zoning for airport’s runway extension
By TRACY X. MIGUEL
Sunday, January 23, 2011
NAPLES — City leaders in Naples are going ahead with plans to decide whether zoning allows for a runway extension at Naples Municipal Airport.
The Naples City Council agreed this past week to vote March 16 on whether zoning allows for the extension. The decision to go ahead comes while the city waits for the Federal Aviation Administration to say whether the city has the right to decide the matter, or the federal agency does.
City Attorney Bob Pritt said it’s likely that the federal agency has a right to pre-empt the city’s decision on its local zoning ordinance.
The decision to set the March meeting came about after Councilman Sam Saad urged the council to vote on the runway extension regardless of whether there’s been a response yet from the FAA.
Council members haven’t heard back from the FAA since contacting the agency during the summer to ask who has the final decision-making power for the airport runway expansion — the city or federal government.
“It shouldn’t take this long,” Saad said.
Regardless of the outcome, Saad said, council owes it to residents to vote.
“Until we are told otherwise by (a judge) or the FAA, we should assert our zoning authority and resolve the issue for our residents,” Saad said.
The Airport Authority is proposing to extend the runway’s safety zones by 510 feet on the south end and 800 feet on the north end. This would increase the declared distance of the runway to 5,800 feet for takeoff, but it would remain 5,000 feet for landing.
FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said in an e-mail that the agency is reviewing the information it has, including public comments and the city’s request for a legal opinion on its rights vs. the federal agency’s.
As of now, the FAA has a copy of the public comments from a Sept. 8, 2010, hearing in Naples about the runway extension and a preliminary final environmental assessment from the Naples Airport Authority, which the agency received in December 2010.
Bergen said there is no deadline of when the FAA review will be completed.
“I think the council is doing the right thing for protection of the community,” said Larry Schultz, a Naples resident who worked on airport noise issues for years and served on the airport’s Technical Advisory Committee.
Schultz also raised a question about the lack of comment from City Council in the environmental assessment.
Councilman John Sorey urged the council to send a letter to FAA requesting a stay or delay on issuing an environmental permit until the council addresses other airport issues, including whether the city can make a decision on the proposed runway on its own.
“The goal is to preserve our rights and responsibilities to respond to the environmental request,” Sorey said.
Yet, the public comments received regarding the environmental assessment includes a letter to the FAA from the city’s attorney, Bergen said in the e-mail.
The letter sent to FAA on Sept. 10 asked that the letter be considered preliminary comment by the city on the environmental assessment, Bergen said in the e-mail.
Bergen said the FAA cannot yet say if it would consider holding up the environmental assessment based on the council members’ wishes because it hasn’t yet received a letter with such a request.
Airport officials hope to keep the project moving.
“We are hoping that the FAA will make the decision and move forward,” said Ted Soliday, the airport’s executive director, emphasizing that it doesn’t mean immediate construction.
The airport authority met Thursday and Schultz questioned why the authority didn’t weigh in on the city’s proposed request for delaying the environmental study.
In another airport-related matter at its meeting, the City Council decided not to pursue a survey of Naples residents regarding whether they want commercial service. The survey was proposed by Saad.
__ Connect with Tracy X. Miguel at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tracy_x_miguel/
© 2011 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online
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