With Airglades boom on radar, Hendry BOCC preparing

Hendry County commissioners considered several agenda items during their meeting Tuesday, May 8, having to do with Airglades Airport and the planning for its takeover by a consortium of private agricultural and shipping interests led by Fred Ford.

The county board picked one of two companies that responded to its Request for Qualifications for preliminary engineering and design services for the Perishable Airport Cargo Complex that will be built there after its purchase by Airglades International Airport LLC. AIA is the entity owned by aviation industry leader Ford’s company Florida Cargo Fresh and SugarHill, a partnership of U.S. Sugar Corp. and Hilliard Bros. The sale to AIA will close 150 days after final Federal Aviation Administration or Florida Department of Transportation approval, whichever comes later.

The two bidders were AECOM Technical Services Inc. and Crawford, Murphy & Tilly (CMT). A three-person selection committee met April 25 and ranked CMT slightly ahead of AECOM, and the county commissioners voted 4-1 last week to have staff negotiate a contract with CMT for design of the complex, which FDOT will pay for.

Commissioner Darrell Harris asked if anyone was there representing the firm, and Laura Sakach, CMT’s environmental project leader and manager of the firm’s LaBelle office, came to the podium. Mr. Harris wanted to know about CMT’s history with Hendry County and Airglades.

“We’ve been actually working for AIA for the past eight years,” she answered, explaining that the Springfield, Ill.-based company had been a subcontractor for AECOM long before that and then opened an office in LaBelle.

Commissioner Michael Swindle said that since he’d been in county government (roughly 15 years), AECOM is the company he remembers being involved from the start of the planning for a cargo airport to help relieve Miami International.

“I remember AECOM making the first presentation at the first meeting I went to. Along the way … they’ve done everything. Now that we’re at a point where we’re really moving forward with the progress … I just want to ensure that the companies that have been with us and provided for us, we continue to provide for them as we move forward.”

He voted against the choice of CMT.

The board also, as part of its consent agenda, approved AIA’s acquisition of the county’s commercial lease of a 26.5-acre industrial park tract along U.S. 27 to Baron Management and Investments Inc. That land now will not have to be carved out of the area AIA will take over and, in exchange, the county will grant AIA a credit not to exceed $300,000 against the final purchase price of the airport property. As things stand now, the county will receive about $4.7 million over time from the sale.

Commissioners later heard about the land-use study for areas surrounding Airglades. Community Development Director Margaret Emblidge brought forth Alexis Crespo of Waldrop Engineering to give that presentation, saying that she would show them two different scenarios for future development around the airport.

“These are just recommendations for the board to consider,” Ms. Emblidge said, “and we would come back to the board after we submit the final report to the Department of Economic Opportunity with some specific recommendations on where to take this information going forward.”

Ms. Crespo said the study was conducted under a grant from DEO, that its timeline is tight and they’ve hit all the deadlines so far, adding that the final report is to be sent to the state by June.

“We wanted to give you an overview of the study, share some of the information we brought out to your public through the community outreach meetings we’ve had through February and March, present to you two alternative land-use scenarios and then also certainly hear your feedback, questions and comments on the study,” she said.

“People can be fearful about the intent of this study. It’s not to make these changes today, to allow someone to go construct industrial uses up and down County Road 833. This is simply a long-range planning tool that your staff can use to evaluate forthcoming changes … on that future land-use map,” Ms. Crespo said. She said it covers about 35,000 acres and that its second land-use alternative, which “has a higher emphasis on residential communities on the eastern and western edges,” was the one preferred by the Local Planning Agency.

She said they also wanted to keep the public informed about what’s been occurring regarding the planned airport expansion, noting that the information compiled so far is available on the county’s website at www.hendryfla.net, under “Quick Links.”

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com

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