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St. Pete City Council approves Albert Whitted runway expansion study

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete City Council unanimously approved a runway extension feasibility study for downtown’s Albert Whitted Airport.

But the measure came with some lackluster support.

The $50,000 study would be funded largely through a state grant with City Council kicking in just $10,000. The study itself would take just about four months or so and would then require approval from Federal Aviation Agency to begin a much more lengthy environmental assessment.

And that’s where the waters get murky. Council member Steve Kornell expressed concern that an extension would harm Tampa Bay. And Darden Rice questioned whether the federal environmental challenges could be met. She also questioned whether the public would support such a plan.

But airport manager Richard Lesniak who presented to the board argued there would be several benefits to extending the current runway.

It’s a chance to bring in more money, for starters. The extension would pave the way for more corporate customers by making room for small and medium-sized corporate jets.

Such customers spend more money on gas and often hire their own flight crews — a perk he said lends to more jobs. And it could serve as a valuable attraction to large businesses whose corporate officers travel on private jets.

“Who are the main users of executive aircraft?” Lesniak asked. “It’s CEOs. [That’s] a very positive thing.”

Lesniak said it’s a great selling point for corporate CEOs to have access to their aircraft just blocks from where they work.

The project, which ultimately would take upward of five years to complete, would allow planes to land further down the runway than currently possible. That could also create development opportunities to build tall buildings where they currently can’t due to flight patterns.

“I remember being able to count the teeth of pilots when I went to USF who were just above the trees,” council member Karl Nurse said.

And council member Bill Dudley said it was an advantageous project to at least look into.

“I think it’s important we go ahead and see what our options are,” Dudley said.

The study approved Thursday would not include looking into potential noise pollution. That’s something Lesniak said would happen during an environmental assessment.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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