By Eric Staats
NAPLES — A project set to start in 2013 at the Naples Municipal Airport could put the airport in the aviation spotlight nationwide and help answer questions about whether water draining off the airport is polluting the Gordon River.
“We walked right into this opportunity,” airport Executive Director Ted Soliday said.
A taxiway extension at the airport required reconfiguring the airport’s water management lakes just as state and federal stakeholders were looking for a spot to test new pond designs to clean up runoff without attracting birds that can pose a hazard to airplanes.
A two-year monitoring period will follow the construction and could fill in gaps from a 2009 study that found sediment pollution hot spots in the Gordon River west of the airport and one in Rock Creek across Airport-Pulling Road from the southeast corner of the airport.
The $8 million project, 95 percent of which will be paid for with state and federal grants, could become a nationwide model for how airports handle water management, said Bill Johnson, executive director of the Florida Airports Council.
“Naples had the perfect site to test,” Johnson said.
Naples airport handles runoff from 400 acres to its east, including an industrial park, which will allow the pilot project to test how well the new pond design handles what is believed to be dirtier water than runs off airport runways alone.
Opponents of a project to extend safety zones at the ends of an airport runway last year cited the 2009 study by Florida International University, which found high levels of petroleum byproducts at the three hot spots. The spot along Airport-Pulling Road also has high levels of copper, lead and zinc.
The FIU report made no connection between the airport and the sediment pollution, and county pollution monitors came up empty when they went searching for possible sources.
The pilot project will build a new lakes system that is deep and has steep sides to make the lakes less bird-friendly than ponds with shallow slopes that enable birds to feed at their edges.
To improve their efficiency at removing pollution, the lakes will be longer and narrower with baffles placed in them to help contamination settle out of the water.
The taxiway extension project will provide easier access to the extended runway so pilots leaving from the east side of the airport don’t have to cross an active runway to take off.