Despite other reports in the media, the construction of the new Panama City airport in West Bay has caused little disturbance in the natural environmental habitat of the pristine areas of West Bay, Burnt Mill Creek and the adjoining waterways. Linda Young of the Clean Water Network, a whistle blower since the beginning of the project going underway, cried red flags citing that serious, irreparable damage was being caused by water run-off at the construction site. Young claimed that the natural pristine areas would be forever damaged and that the marine habitats’ destruction would ruin the tourism industry only to correct herself by citing that it would ruin the charter fishing industry.
In a phone interview with Young, she claimed to have photographs documenting the excess run-off and the damage it has created to the surrounding environmental areas but failed to produce them after two requests were made. Young also claimed that a dark powdery residue could be found on surrounding vegetation in the run-off areas, yet I observed non-such-matter. It could be possible, however, that I was looking in the wrong areas, as we were limited by where we could go without some serious off-terrain gear. I was taken up Burnt Mill Creek until we couldn’t go anymore without running aground and took note that all of the vegetation looked the same as the vegetation all along the West Bay waterway, again, noting no muddy residue.
I visited the airport construction site on Thursday to talk with officials and was told that there were run-off issues that were being dealt with and that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was and had been made aware of the issues. The issues were noted during a period of heavy rain-fall during the months of March and April during regular weekly tests and were reported to the FDEP .I was told that in collaboration with the FDEP, measures were being taken to correct the issues that had caused the excess and improper run-off. I was told that the issues were not serious and that no permanent damage had occurred, but there were definitely issues to be resolved.
Phone calls to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection were not returned.
Upon noting above average levels of turbidity in the surrounding waterways at the new Panama City airport site, the airport authority hired a private independent environmental consulting group. Ecological Resource Consultants (ERC) conducted a study of the environmental areas in and around Bear Bay Branch, Kelly Branch, Morrell Branch, Crooked Creek, Burnt Mill Creek and West Bay. Over a period of 10 days, ERC studied data from the DEP, data from the Airport Authority and their own independent findings at the sites in question and found:
- During construction, with the exception of March/April 2009, turbidity levels remains the same just off site as they were before construction began.
- No sediment was found in Bear Bay Branch
- Kelly Branch/Morrell Branch had sediment accumulation, which means the wetlands performed correctly, catching the sediment before it went into the creeks.
- There was no sediment found in Burnt Mill Creek, Crooked Creek or West Bay.
- ERC took 8 core samples from Burnt Mill Creek and Crooked Creek, from the branch outfall locations all the way down to the mouth of each creek at West Bay and found no sediment accumulation.
- They also had a snorkeler check and found no visible impact to sea grasses and no sediment in West Bay.
- Found finer textured sediment which causes some minor concern because it could possibly reactivate with a heavy rainfall, but they are working with DEP to develop an approved approach to limiting remobilization.
- There was no measurable impact on either Creek or West Bay.
- Almost all of the sediment was contained on the airport property and within the permit boundaries.
After talking with Roy Willett, KBR Construction Manager at the new Panama City Airport site, I was told that through on-going communication with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection approved resolutions were being made to improve the existing run-off systems to provide minimal impact on the surrounding areas. To help, more than 600 acres of land has been seeded and mulched in the last 2 weeks.