Airport bill advances despite city opposition

Published: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 11:00 p.m.
A bill altering the rules governing Gainesville Regional Airport will be introduced into the Florida Legislature this year, against the wishes of the Gainesville City Commission.
But while Alachua County's legislative delegation agreed to move the bill forward at a meeting in Tallahassee Wednesday, some members said they would not support it unless the airport and Gainesville city commissioners are able to develop a law to which both parties can agree.
Airport and city officials have held two heated meetings this month over the bill, which was requested by the Gainesville-Alachua County Regional Airport Authority.
Airport CEO Rick Crider referred to the changes Wednesday as "housekeeping" designed to officially recognize the way the airport actually operates.
But city officials have raised concerns about vagueness in the bill's language that could give airport officials more power than they have now. Specifically, city officials worry about losing oversight of zoning and permitting construction on airport property, which is owned by the city.
These concerns led the City Commission to ask lawmakers to wait until next year before introducing the bill to give the two parties more time to discuss its details.
"This puts us in a more reactive position than we'd like to be," City Manager Russ Blackburn said.
Legislators said Wednesday they expect the two bodies to work out their these disagreements differences before the start of the legislative session in March, when a final version of the bill will be due. If a version is not submitted by then, the Legislature cannot vote on cannot be voted on by the Legislature.
"What we decided to do as a delegation is give the parties an option to work out those issues," said state Rep. Ed Jennings Jr., D-Gainesville, the legislator who called Wednesday's meeting.
State Sen. Rod Smith, D-Alachua, agreed that the bill should move forward, but warned Wednesday he would oppose any legislation unless both the city and airport approved and seemed to offer advantages not in the existing law. Without Smith, the only senator on Alachua County's delegation, the bill would be unable to pass in the Senate and become law.
"We need to show some improvement," Smith said. "Right now, I'm not convinced that this plan will do that."
Many of the changes contained in the bill officially recognize make official activities already undertaken by the airport authority, Crider said.
The most important part of the legislation is a change that would allow the airport to set its own budget without city oversight, he said, adding that the permission was which has already been established by a court case., he said.
The latest version of the bill also includes a provision, recommended by Jennings, that would allow the city, county or governor to appoint members of the airport from the counties surrounding Alachua. All members are now appointed from within Alachua Countythe county.
Jennings, who has supported other efforts to tie the airport more closely to Marion County, said making the facility more regional was important for its continued growth.
"The airport is trying to attract passengers from Ocala and Lake Butler," he said. "Having someone outside of Alachua (County) on the authority would go a long way toward that goal."
Blackburn said the city would make "every effort" to draft legislation acceptable to both parties, but acknowledged this might not happen before the beginning of the legislative session.
"There are times you just can't agree," Blackburn said.
Jeff Adelson can be reached at 352-374-5095 or

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