Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Dania loses federal lawsuit fighting airport expansion: Another case against county heading to court on December 9


The city has lost another battle in its long-running dispute over the expansion of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

U.S. District Judge James Cohn dismissed Dania's lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday, saying the agency did not violate environmental laws when it granted a permit to fill wetlands for the south runway.

"This was not a big surprise," said Mayor Walter Duke, referring to an earlier ruling by Cohn critical of the city's case.

A few years ago, the city lost its lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration for approving the expansion.

Another lawsuit against Broward County is pending, with trial set for Dec. 9.

"This lawsuit is not about trying to stop the runway," said Neal McAliley, an outside attorney handling the Dania lawsuits. "This lawsuit is about getting the flight restrictions that were agreed to. You have thousands of people right underneath the flight path. They're going to have jets right overhead. Broward made promises in the 1990s and they are trying to renege on it."

By 2020, more than 500 flights are projected to use the south runway each day, with large and heavy jets coming every 4 minutes between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., according to FAA projections.

Dania's lawsuit alleges the county disregarded a 1995 agreement with the city in which it agreed to certain restrictions before moving forward with the expansion project. Those conditions included limiting night flights on the new runway along with the size of jets and directions of takeoffs and landings.

But the FAA rejected the idea of flight restrictions when it approved the expansion in December 2008, McAliley said.

Construction of the $790 million runway began in January 2012.

Expected to open in September 2014, the new landing strip will accommodate bigger commercial jets and increase the number of takeoffs and landings. It will also expose 2,000 Dania homes to sound levels deemed by the FAA to be incompatible with residential use.

Commissioners plan to meet in private Aug. 27 to decide whether to appeal Cohn's ruling. The city has until Sept. 20 to file with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"It's disappointing, but it's not surprising," said Neal McAliley, an outside attorney handling the Dania lawsuits. "A year ago he indicated he was going to rule for the Army Corps of Engineers."

Duke could not say if the city might appeal the case against the Army Corps.

"I probably shouldn't speak on behalf of the commission," he said. "But there is the political will to do what is best for the impacted residents."