Residents relieved over runway extension outcome

Community says it doesn't expect fight over Craig Airport to go away permanently

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - An effort to extend the runway at Jacksonville Executive at Craig Airport is over for now.

Two Jacksonville businesses have dropped the lawsuits they filed two years ago to force the city to extend the airport's runway.

People who live nearby who've fought to keep the runway as it is are breathing a sigh of relief, but they say they aren't letting their guards down just yet.

"It's just another battle," said Dianne Wiles, former vice president of the Greater Arlington Civic Council. "It's like every few years this comes up again, so the neighborhoods are tired of the fight."

It's a fight that's been waging on in the Arlington community for years. Jacksonville's comprehensive plan says the Jacksonville Aviation Authority cannot extend Craig Airport's runways.

But in 2010, Craig Air Center and Sky Harbor Corp sued the city. A Jacksonville judge dismissed the case in August, so the companies turned to a federal appeals court in Atlanta. Last week, they gave up the appeal.

"We want to keep our neighborhoods the way they are, and we were promised that it wasn't going to be extended," Wiles said. "And you know, it's a safety issue as well. I mean, these houses are very close to the airport and the jets are already screaming over our house, and we're fine with that, we just don't want any bigger ones."

Wiles says a longer runway could cause property values to drop.

Right now, the runway stops just behind a fence on the corner of Monument and St. Johns Bluff roads. It's already 4,000 feet long. Advocates were hoping to add another 1,600 feet on the other side, making it 40 percent longer.

City Council President Bill Bishop doesn't expect attempts to extend the runway to go away permanently, but at least for the next few years.

"Traffic is down, the number of jets are down," Bishop said. "There is no likelihood of them getting funding for this project from the FAA for this anytime soon."

He said if the economy picks up and those things change, the challenge could come back.

And the community is ready.

"We're always on guard, always waiting for the next battle, so this is important to us," Wiles said. "This is our community, this is our neighborhood and our livelihood."

As for one of the businesses that dropped the lawsuit:

"They are now planning to work with the Jacksonville Aviation Authority so the JAA can meet with the City Council again to discuss the extension issue," Sky Harbor Corp President Spence Edwards said in a statement.

He said Jacksonville is the only major city in the U.S. that does not have a designated reliever airport with a 5,000-foot runway that meets FAA safety requirements. The company is now operating under a waiver from the FAA.

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