Naples airport runway extension opponents not giving up the fight

Naples Airport Authority meeting

Where: City Hall council chambers, 735 Eighth St. S.

When: 8:30 a.m. Thursday at City Hall

What: One item on the agenda deals with the runway safety areas

Naples Airport

500 Terminal Drive, Naples, FL

— Naples runway extension opponents aren’t giving up their fight, insisting that the city still has the ability to stop the Naples Municipal Airport project.

Citizens Against Runway Extension, which recently got a nationally known aviation attorney’s opinion, wants the Naples City Council to reconsider its previous approval of the airport’s request to extend the runway.

In a six-page letter to City Attorney Bob Pritt in late May, lawyer Steven Taber of Taber Law Group states that because the city is the owner of the airport, which is leased to the Airport Authority, it has basic ownership rights.

In early March, the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed the opinion of the city’s attorney and airport’s attorney that the final decision regarding the expansion of the runway falls to the FAA and City Council members have no authority over extending airport runways.

Naples City Council approved the airport’s runway extension 4-3 on March 16, after a 10-hour meeting.

In response to the latest legal opinion, Mayor Bill Barnett said in an email to the anti-runway extension group:

“While there may be conflicting opinions as to whether the City Council is pre-empted from making certain decisions related to the airport, the City Council acted as if it had proprietary interest and was not pre-empted by the FAA. Furthermore, the Naples Airport Authority submitted its application to extend the (runway safety areas) to City Council without claiming that City Council was pre-empted by federal law,” Barnett said.

“To now raise an issue that the City Council is not pre-empted by the FAA appears somewhat irrelevant.”

Alan Parker, manager of the runway extension opponents group, disagrees.

Parker, the former chairman of the airport’s Technical Advisory Committee, said the FAA’s opinion that the city has no authority over extending the runway is contrary to law and fact.

Taber’s letter questions the FAA’s opinion that the city is a “nonproprietor” of the airport.

Parker, the former Old Naples Association president, said the city as the proprietor and owner of the land has the right to set limits on runway length and aircraft weight limit.

Parker maintains that City Council members’ assumption that they had no power over the runway extension influenced the council’s vote when it approved the runway extension.

According to the city’s ordinance, the maximum distance allowed for the runway is 5,000 feet.

The 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.

Airport officials have stated that they plan to maintain the 75,000-pound plane weight restriction.

In his letter, Barnett said City Council’s decision to limit the weight of the aircraft to 75,000 pounds will mean that aircraft may not be larger than the size of aircraft that currently use the airport.

The runway extension opponents group wants the city to ask the FAA to provide the factual basis for its opinion that the city has no authority over extending airport runways and is a “nonproprietor” of the airport. The group also wants the city to request the opinion of an independent aviation law expert to review the various opinions concerning the city’s authority over extending airport runways, examine the law and provide an opinion to council for consideration, Parker said.

“If the city loses its rights as a proprietor, it will be forever — meaning the remaining 57 years of the lease,” Parker said. “The proprietor’s right is the city’s last vestige of control over the airport and giving up on that right without a full investigation would be surrender of the city’s rights of control over city-owned property.”

Naples airport runway extension opponent Larry Schultz also responded to Barnett’s letter recently. He refuted what he said are several misstatements and inconsistencies in Barnett’s letter.

Barnett in his letter said the law as to “proprietary interest” may be a worthwhile debate.

“Nonetheless, City Council took the position that it did have the authority to make a decision, evaluated the evidence in a quasi-judicial proceeding, and rendered its opinion that the NAA may extend the (safety areas),” Barnett said in a letter.

According to Barnett, the runway extension opponents organization’s attorney who sent the legal opinion then recalled the message four minutes later.

However, Taber said in an email that there was no intent to “withdraw” the letter, only replace the Microsoft Word version of the letter with a PDF version.

Airport officials also have responded to the runway extension opponents organization’s legal opinion.

The Naples Airport Authority’s attorney sent a letter to the city’s attorney based on the legal opinion, not knowing if the organization’s letter had been retracted.

Aside from noise reduction, airport officials have maintained that the expansion of the runway also would enhance safety for aircraft and become more competitive for commercial airline services.

At this point, there is no date of when the project could start, said Ted Soliday, the airport’s executive director.

Moreover, the environmental assessment submitted to the FAA hasn’t been finalized.

FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said in an email that the FAA submitted comments on the environmental assessment last month and is waiting for the airport to update the environmental assessment, including doing some additional noise analysis.

“What we don’t have is the final approval from the FAA and the final approval from our board,” Soliday said.

__ Connect with Tracy X. Miguel at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tracy_x_miguel/

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