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Northwest Florida Beaches Airport, USA

Construction of a new airport on wetlands, in spite of six environmental lawsuits, caused a decline in habitat and water quality. A private landowner stands to benefit from industrial, retail and hotel development on land its owns around the airport.


Northwest Florida Beaches Airport is situated 15 kilometres inland from famous white sand beaches, amidst dense pine forests and marshes. In 2009, as construction was underway, Journalist Hal Herring described the area as the ‘last undeveloped expanse of Florida’, the wetlands among the most biologically diverse habitats in the US, providing a haven for black bears, red-cockaded woodpeckers and the endangered gopher tortoise. Rivers, creeks and springs flowing into West Bay and among the cleanest in the country, are vital for inshore fisheries.[1] When construction of the airport began in 2008 concrete was being produced on site at a rate sufficient to fill a mixing truck every two and a half minutes.[2] By May 2009, two kilometres of slow-moving streams had been paved over. The porous wetlands were too fragile to support conventional building foundations, so earth was excavated and filled in with reinforced concrete supported by steel poles.[3] The airport has one runway and the site covers 1,618 hectares, providing plenty of room for growth including two additional runways.[4] Northwest Florida Beaches Airport was built in spite of six lawsuits from environmental groups and a non-binding referendum in which 56 per cent of citizens rejected the project. Opponents of the airport were outraged by the wording of the question posed by the referendum, as it stated there would no cost to taxpayers.[1] The voters were misled. Construction of the airport cost about USD318 million, from a variety of federal, state and local government sources in approximately equal amounts. Linda Young, Director of Clean Water Network of Florida (CWN), a coalition of 155 groups committed to safeguarding water resources, said ‘decision-makers have been hoodwinked into spending vast sums of public money on an environmentally destructive fiasco’.[5]

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Northwest Florida Beaches Airport, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Florida
Location of conflict:Bay County
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Urban development conflicts
Ports and airport projects
Specific commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Northwest Florida Beaches Airport is owned and operated by Panama City-Bay County Airport and Industrial District.[14] Design of the airport began in 1998. Ground-breaking took place in November 2007 and the facility opened on 23rd May 2010. Northwest Florida Beaches Airport was built to replace the now closed Panama-City-Bay County Airport, located less than 5 kilometers away.[4] It was the first major new airport to be constructed in the US since Denver Airport, which opened in 1995.[1] Airport construction costs were approximately USD318 million, from federal state and local government sources.[5]

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Project area:1,618
Level of Investment for the conflictive project318,000,000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:14/11/2006
End of the conflict:23/05/2010
Company names or state enterprises:Phoenix Construction - Site preparation and airport construction
Jones Lang LaSalle Incorporated (JLL) from United States of America - NW Florida Beaches Airport commercial developer
Southwest Airlines from United States of America - St. Joe provided a revenue guarantee to help attract the airline to beging flights from the airport[4]
AVCON Inc from United States of America - Worked on initial feasibility study, site selection, planning studies and designed many of NW Florida Beaches Airport’s facilities[4]
St. Joe Company from United States of America - Donated land for the airport and owns land surrounding it
ITT Corporation from United States of America - Confirmed as first tenant at VentureCrossing Enterprise Center on land adjacent to the airport[16]
Relevant government actors:Bay County
State of Florida
Panama City-Bay County Airport and Industrial District (The Airport Authority)
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Bay County Economic Development Alliance (EDA of Bay)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Clean Water Network -
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) -
Defenders of Wildlife
Friends of PFN (Panama City Airport)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Friends of PFN (Panama City Airport)
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Soil contamination
Potential: Soil erosion, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Waste overflow, Oil spills
Health ImpactsPotential: Other environmental related diseases
Other Health impactsIllnesses caused by pollutants emitted by aircraft
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Application of existing regulations
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The airport was constructed in spite of a majority opposing it in a referendum, which stated misleading information on the financing of the project, that it would not be at the cost of taxpayers. Moreover, in December 2019 It was broken ground on a hotel next to Northwest Florida Beaches Airport.
Sources & Materials

[2] Main Runway is PAVED at New Airport, PCBDaily, 2 February 2009
[click to view]

[3] Airport Construction Dumps Tons of Mud in Estuary, Defuniak Herald, 15 May 2009
[click to view]

[4] Forecast Looks Sunny & Clear for New Florida Airport, Airport Improvement Magazine, July-August 2010
[click to view]

[5] Lawmakers Should Halt Airport Boondoggle, Tampa Bay Online, 14 April 2008
[click to view]

[6] Conservationists and Pilots File Suit against FAA's $331-Million Florida Panhandle ‘Airport to Nowhere’, CWN, 14 November 2006
[click to view]

[7] Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, Designed as Country's First LEED(R) Certified Airport, to Start Passenger and Freight Service May 2010, PR Newswire, November 2009
[click to view]

[8] Lawsuit Looming to Stop Airport Construction, Defuniak Herald, 3 July 2009
[click to view]

[9] The St. Joe Company, Annual Report 2009, March 2010
[click to view]

[10] New Panhandle airport will be first in U.S. since 9/11, Tampa Bay Times, 17 August 2007
[click to view]

[11] Airport vegetation provides ‘good impression' to travelers, officials say,, 2 November 2011
[click to view]

[12] Airport Authority Discusses Ground Transportation, Damaged Wetland Issues,, 15 September 2010
[click to view]

[13] Storm Water Runoff Problems Still Exists at Northwest Florida Beaches Airport, Dailymotion, 23 February 2012
[click to view]

[14] About ECP
[click to view]

[15] FLORIDA BEACHES' AIRPORT CITY TAKES SHAPE, Global Airport Cities, 7 May 2011
[click to view]

[16] Defense Contractor To Move Operations To New Airport Site, WMBB News, 7 September 2011
[click to view]

[17] New Florida Panhandle airport now 5 years old, plans to grow, 24 May 2015, USA Today
[click to view]

[18] St. Joe Company breaks ground on hotel next to NW Florida Beaches International Airport, Northwest Florida Daily News, 19 December 2019
[click to view]

Other documents

[1] Hal Herring, The Panhandle Paradox, MillerMccune, 17 August 2009 (accessed 18 June 2011)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Rose Bridger, Stay Grounded, email: [email protected]
Last update26/03/2020
Conflict ID:4887
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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