Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Controversial Venice Airport safety zone approved
By Kim Hackett
The Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune
Federal officials have had plans to improve safety at Venice Airport for years.
VENICE - Despite protests by residents who accused the city of diminishing their property values, the City Council on Tuesday approved a contentious airport plan that temporarily puts the Gulf Shores neighborhood in a airport safety zone. The vote puts the city in a position to seek $21 million in airport improvements, most of which will be spent shifting a runway and removing the safety zone from above the houses.
About a dozen residents and airport supporters spoke on both sides of the issue before the council voted six to one to approve the airport plan, with council member Jim Bennett voting no.
"I don't trust the business powers-that-be," said Alex Clemens, who found out about the safety zone three months after he bought his Gulf Shores house in 2007. He worries about the five to seven years it will take to move the safety zone. "Councils change, priorities change."
Residents say they are considering legal action because the city has taken away their property rights without compensation.
Mayor John Holic said the safety zone — called a runway protection zone — is already there and depicting it on a map does not make the residents any less safe.
"You can't move to the second step" to solve the safety zone problem "without a first step," Holic said. "It's time to move forward."
From the council's perspective, the vote puts an end to an issue that has dominated the city's agenda since 2007. An alternative way to remove the safety zone is to downgrade the airport, an alternative pushed by the previous council and rejected by the FAA.
The plan will now go back to the Federal Aviation Administration for final approval, which will then clear the way for the city to become eligible for federal grants. The city has been unable to receive federal money, including stimulus grants given to other nearby airports, for several years because it did not have an updated plan.
Most of the federal grant money, which the city has to apply for in competition with other communities, will pay for removing the Gulf Shores neighborhood from an air safety zone. It involves shifting a runway to the southeast and installing an expensive concrete bumper, a safety measure the FAA has paid for at 35 airports, only four similar in size to Venice.
The city also plans to replace a crumbling runway. The improvements will require moving a driving range and several holes at the Lake Venice Golf Club next to the airport.
BY THE NUMBERS
Planned Venice Airport improvements under the approved airport layout plan: