Users of the Marco Island Executive Airport (MIEA) should be glad of one thing: They’re not in Immokalee.
Although the regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the Collier County Airport Authority Advisory Board took place in a conference room at the MIEA on Monday, almost the entire meeting was taken up dealing with problems and issues at the Immokalee Regional Airport. One piece of news did pertain to Marco and the MIEA, and it was strictly good news.
The $7 million expansion of MIEA begun last May is progressing ahead of schedule, with no need for the board to spend more than a few moments dealing with it. The project, which largely consists of a taxiway expansion along the sole runway at the airport, located off Collier Blvd. on the mainland north of Marco Island, took much longer to obtain approvals for than to build. Lack of a taxiway was first identified as a safety hazard in the 1996 airport master plan. MIEA was, said Chris Curry, executive director of the Collier County Airport Authority, the only airport in the state with a 5,000-foot runway and jet traffic that did not have a taxiway.
The taxiway, extending 5,000 feet parallel to the existing runway, will eliminate the need for “back taxiing,” freeing up the runway for takeoffs and landings. Last year, the Marco airport handled 18,000 of those, operating at full capacity during the season, with long waits sometimes required.
The airport sits on sensitive wetlands, with the taxiway having to be carved out of adjoining mangroves. This accounted for much of the lengthy approval and permitting process, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Dept. of Environmental Protection, and the Army Corps of Engineers all having to sign off on the work.
Originally scheduled for completion in April of 2012, the project now is expected to be complete as of February 10, and has an official groundbreaking set for February 24. The funds for the project, which also expanded ramp space to accommodate more aircraft, was 95 percent funded by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). The remaining five percent was split between the state DOT and Collier County, with the county’s share coming from a combination of airport user fees and general revenue.
Curry called the project “a life safety issue,” and “of utmost importance to the people of Collier County.”
There was less harmony when the meeting turned to the Immokalee airport. Curry played a video shot showing crop duster planes with their propellers feathering, while no pilot sat at the controls. He also took to task the agricultural aerial operators for unsafe flying, specifically landing one aircraft while another was on the runway.
Steve Fletcher, owner of Fletcher Flying Service, said these practices were safe, and reflected 30 years of safe flying at the Immokalee airport. Board member Richard Rice backed him up.
“Instead of trying to work with the tenant, we’re making it their fault. It upsets me,” said Rice. He urged working with the businesses who make the airport there home, before filing complaints with the FAA.
“Some things are so blatantly negligent, I have a moral obligation to report them,” said Curry. He also took issue with the manner in which chemicals are delivered to the airport for crop dusting.
“Instead of videoing me secretly from the woods, why not do some work at the airport?” asked Fletcher. “I don’t know how long it will take for you (the advisory board) to realize I’m being harassed.”
The board also approved cattle grazing on land at the Immokalee airport, and considered how best to accommodate the upcoming ballooning event sponsored by the Immokalee Seminole Casino.
Their next meeting is set for Feb. 6 at the Immokalee Regional Airport.