There's new leadership at Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP). At Wednesday's meeting of the Airport Authority, the board elected a new chairman, recognized a new board member and welcomed a new police chief.
John Pilcher, III was elected chairman of the seven member panel. Pilcher, a former Panama City commissioner who was appointed to the airport board in 2010, will serve a one year term as chairman. Till Bruett was elected to serve as Vice Chairman.
Russ Mathis, who served as Bay County's chief deputy property appraiser until his retirement, began a new four year term. Mathis replaces Andy McKenzie, whose term expired June.
Pilcher, a private pilot, said his priorities include construction of a new cross wind runway, resolution of the airport's environmental issues and continued growth. "I want to make this airport a great destination for people to come and to increase our traffic... for this community, for this county, for what this is going to do to increase jobs and opportunities," he said.
Mathis also endorsed the cross wind runway and said he wants to help ECP become a "truly international" airport. "I've been in favor of this airport for years and years, from the first time it was brought up," he said. "I just felt like I had the time and the energy to give back to the community and this is a way that I can do it."
Airport management introduced Barbara Montgomery as the new chief of the Airport Police Department. Montgomery joined the department in 1978 and attended the Federal Aviation Academy the following year. She has worked for seven different airport directors and seven police chiefs over the past three decades, and served as interim chief several times.
Montgomery has served as interim police chief since May 3, when Tony Walker resigned from the position. Six days later, Walker was arrested after reportedly attempting to sell firearms he allegedly stole while previously employed by the Bay County Sheriff's Office.
Montgomery said she is looking forward to the challenge. "An airport provides a unique environment for police," she said. "We not only deal with the local law enforcement issues… we have federal regulations that we work with every day."
In other business, the board approved a plan and budget to resolve lingering issues related to the airport's storm water management system. For months, airport officials have been working toward a solution with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The FDEP recently issued a consent order to correct numerous violations related to runoff. Since the existing system was constructed, water volume and velocity have exceeded the original design projections and storm water is breeching the system and making its way into nearby wetland areas.
Board members approved $3.8 million in system improvements that include construction of two new water retention ponds and new dry retention areas. The Florida Department of Transportation will fund $239,540 of the total and the airport anticipates a grant of $2,043,720 from the FAA. According to John Wheat, ECP Executive Director, the remaining $1,550,650 will be paid using funds from the airport's recent court settlement.
Wheat said the project will finally put an end to the problem. "This is the final solution," said Wheat. "This is what's necessary to ensure that our environment is protected and that the airport is operating appropriately."
Wheat said construction bids are in the works and the board will likely award the contract at a special meeting on August 7. The project will get underway in October, with completion scheduled for March 2013.