Public Can Comment on Amazon Expansion Plans at Thursday Meeting

A public hearing Thursday evening on Amazon’s plans to nearly double the size of its massive air cargo facility at Lakeland Linder International Airport is expected to attract a large crowd. Those who can’t attend will be able to watch a live stream on the LkldNow Facebook page starting at 7 p.m.

The preliminary session starts at 6 p.m in Sikes Hall at the R.P. Funding Center. Attendees will be able to view posters detailing the expansion plans and ask questions of Lakeland Airport Director Gene Conrad, his staff and consultants from the AECOM engineering firm.

The formal presentation begins at 7 p.m. with a 20-minute pre-recorded video display giving highlights of the city’s 137-page environmental assessment of the Amazon expansion plan. (You can view the full document at the end of this article.)

After the formal presentation, Conrad will talk briefly about the city’s work with the Federal Aviation Authority trying to mitigate noise complaints by altering flight patterns and altitudes for jets approaching and departing the airport.

And after Conrad’s talk, the floor will be open to comments from members of the public. Each commenter will be asked to give their full name and address and will have two or three minutes to speak — Conrad said this morning that the time limit had not been decided yet.

Comments can also be submitted to Conrad in writing by May 31 to [email protected] or mailed to him at 3900 Don Emerson Drive, Suite 210, Lakeland 33811.

The formal purpose of the hearing is to take public comment on the social, economic, and environmental effects of the proposed Amazon expansion as part of the final environmental assessment that the city will submit to the FAA. Conrad emphasizes that this is an FAA process, not a meeting that will result in a City Commission vote.

Neither Amazon nor the FAA is expected to be formally represented at the hearing, Conrad said.

The environmental document discusses noise contours only within the airport’s boundaries because that’s what the FAA looks at, Conrad said. But he anticipates that most of the comments from the public will concern jet noise over Lakeland neighborhoods.

That’s based on the numerous noise complaints that Conrad and city commissioners have received in recent months and also on a mail campaign urging people to attend the session.

Many Lakeland residents received postcards this week showing a painting of five large jets flying over downtown Lakeland and the headline “Do you want Lakeland’s peace and quiet to be SHATTERED by Amazon?”

The postcard urges people to follow a Facebook group called Transparent Lakeland. A post on the page urging people to attend the hearing has so far received 14 responses and 24 comments, ranging from people concerned about noise pollution to others lauding the economic impact of the Amazon expansion.

Transparent Lakeland so far has not responded to LkldNow’s Monday request to learn who to contact to speak for the group.

According to the Transparent Lakeland postcard and Facebook post, the concerns are that by the end of the expansion, Amazon will have:

  • 44 daily flights into or out of Lakeland Linder.
  • An additional 63 acres in the northwest quadrant of the airport
  • A new access road and a new fuel farm that can store 24,000 of gasoline and 72,000 gallons of jet fuel.
  • More parking storage and a truck court that can accommodate 350 bays with more than 1,000 parking spaces.
  • 464,000 more square feet of cargo processing/sorting and office space in addition to the current 223,000 square feet.

Conrad bristles at the suggestion that he and the city have not been transparent about expansion plans at Lakeland Linder.

Conrad said he has vigorously promoted the airport’s expansion plans and countless hours have been spent at City Commission meetings and workshops discussing the runway expansions and installation of a top-grade instrument landing system needed for the airport’s planned “intermodal facility.”

“We were designing before Amazon even called us,” Conrad said. “I don’t think people understand that this wasn’t all just for Amazon. Now, granted they took up the whole space. But the whole intermodal facility, as we call it, was going to have MRO (maintenance operation), large maintenance hangars on it and a smaller cargo warehouse. But then Amazon came and it all changed. We were moving on this project; it was happening whether Amazon was coming or not.”

Conrad called Amazon a “phenomenal partner” that has invested more than $100 million in the airport and received no city incentives to come here. The city anticipates $1.9 million next year in rental and other revenue from Amazon, Conrad said, noting that figure will grow and so will its roster of 1,000 employees in Lakeland.

A 2020 workshop on the airport’s 20-year master plan drew 150 attendees, Conrad said. That’s nearly as many as the 192 chairs set up for Thursday night’s session.