Cecil Airport: Protecting the Jacksonville of Today and Beyond

Cecil Airport has a rich history beginning at the onset of World War II. In 1942, the United States Navy acquired a parcel of land which they developed into Naval Air Station Cecil Field. As time progressed, Cecil Field would become the U.S. Navy’s largest master jet base to support our troops through every major war until Desert Storm.

In October of 1999, after 58 years of serving the United States Military as a U.S. Navy master jet base, Cecil Airfield was decommissioned by recommendation of the U.S. Base Realignment and Closure Commission. If you ask the Jacksonville Aviation Authority (JAA), they will tell you that this decision by the military was one of JAA’s greatest gains in recent years. Together with the City of Jacksonville, the JAA eagerly took over ownership of Cecil Airfield and began the process of transforming the airfield into the aviation powerhouse that Cecil Airport represents today.

An integral portion of this process included fostering strategic partnerships with entities like Boeing, Florida State College at Jacksonville, the US Military, and the Florida Department of Transportation, among others. The relationship between Cecil Airport and Boeing resulted in the construction of a Boeing maintenance, repair, and overhaul operations facility. For the past 20 years, this facility has played a valuable role in military upgrades and modifications at Cecil Airport. Boeing has assisted in over 1,000 aircraft upgrades including F/A-18 A-D Hornet, F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler.

In 2020, this relationship became even more solid when Pond assisted JAA in developing the programming and preparing the accompanying construction budget to respond to an RFP from Boeing. Upon selection, JAA unanimously approved and signed a 25-year lease with Boeing to expand operations at Cecil Airport. Because of our long, successful history of projects with both JAA and Boeing, Pond was exclusively selected to design this 8-bay Hangar Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul Hangar (MRO) and Ramp. It is rare and humbling to collaborate on a project of this scope and impact from concept to reality, and Pond was honored by the trust placed in us by both JAA and Boeing.

The programming Pond provided included planning the site layout including future development in accordance with Part 77 surfaces and previously permitted wetland impact areas. The airside design includes a parking apron with seven 737 parking positions and two taxi lanes to provide access from existing Taxiway Echo to the new MRO Hangar Facility. The apron will include service utility pits and tie downs to maintain aircraft including two parking positions dedicated for fueling and defueling operations. The project also includes all landside facilities and infrastructure including parking lots, access drives, security fences and gates, water systems, sanitary sewer systems, stormwater management, and stormwater conveyance systems for the approximate 50-acre site.

Boeing Jacksonville Looking North
Boeing Jacksonville Main Entry

By creating larger hangars and more useable space, Pond will help Boeing and Cecil Airport expand their presence in Jacksonville and their ability to provide complex solutions to prestigious aviation clients. These improvements assure that Boeing will be able to remain competitive for a full scope of Department of Defense contracts from Cecil Airport. This expansion will also make room for a new digital maintenance platform currently in development which will streamline aircraft maintenance and significantly improve efficiency.

Additionally, the updated facility brings over 400 new jobs to the state of Florida. This will further solidify Cecil’s position as an economic boon to the Jacksonville area. “Florida is attracting the biggest names in aerospace and this announcement with Boeing marks another milestone for the industry’s expansion in our state,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. “We congratulate Boeing and the City of Jacksonville for this important achievement, which will help sustain economic recovery in Northeast Florida at a critical time.”

On October 27th of this year, Pond attended the groundbreaking ceremony for this site. The 370,000 square-foot facility is set to open in 2023 and will represent the aviation industry’s first digitally-enabled maintenance facility.

“We are honored by the trust placed in our team by JAA, Boeing, and the Jacksonville community. Our aviation team is excited to see the dedicated efforts of planning, design, and collaboration come to fruition for this complex endeavor,” said Hugh Weaver, Pond’s VP of Aviation.

Boeing JAX Groundbreaking
Boeing Jet Showcase

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A recent ruling may have significant impact on clients in the utilities; mining; residential, commercial, and industrial development; agricultural; recreational; stormwater management; mariculture; and renewable energy industries. Pond is following the situation closely and working with clients across the affected industries to evaluate contingencies and is available for discussion.

We are currently experiencing a unique legal situation that is affecting the ability of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to authorize the 2021 Nationwide Permits (NWPs), which allow for the discharge of fill to Waters of the US under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.


What Happened?

On October 21, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California vacated the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) 2020 Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401 “Certification Rule” (“the 2020 Rule”).  In re Clean Water Act Rulemaking, No. 20-cv-4636, et al. (Oct. 21, 2021).  The vacatur is now in effect and is applicable nationwide. The effect of the Court’s ruling is to reinstate USEPA’s previous Certification Rule, which had been in effect since 1971 (“the 1971 Rule”). The USEPA had already identified substantial concerns with the “2020 Rule” and was already in the process of revising the 401 Certification Rule prior to the ruling and vacatur. The USEPA requested the District Court of Northern California to remand the rule without vacatur while USEPA continues working on a revised rule. A critical effect of this vacatur is the apparent inability of the USACE to issue authorizations for permit requests under the 16 NWPs, which were issued/reissued in 2021, as these NWPs rely on the “2020 Rule” for 401 Certification. Please note that this appears to affect the 16 Nationwide Permits which were issued/reissued in 2021. The remaining 40 Nationwide Permits which were issued/reissued in 2017 would not be affected as long as they received a conditional 401 Certification at the time of issuance. However, if a specific state withheld conditional certification in 2017 or a specific project exceeds the limits of a conditional certification, then we presume that the vacatur would now prevent the issuance of a 401 Certification; thereby, preventing USACE from authorizing permit coverage in such instances. These limitations apply not only to USACE, but also to any state (i.e., Michigan, New Jersey, and Florida) or Tribal Government which has assumed the administration of the Section 404 program on behalf of the USACE. At this time, there has been no official messaging from USACE as to if/how they plan to proceed except for a very short statement:

Who is Affected?

The industries most likely to be affected by this situation include: utilities (oil, natural gas, electric, telecom, water, etc.); mining; residential, commercial, and industrial development; agricultural; recreational; stormwater management; mariculture; and renewable energy. See Table 1 for a list of affected 2021 NWPs.

Table 1. List of 2021 Nationwide Permits (NWPs) which are Currently Not Being Authorized

12. Oil or Natural Gas Pipeline Activities

21. Surface Coal Mining Activities

29. Residential Developments

39. Commercial and Institutional Developments

40. Agricultural Activities

42. Recreational Facilities

43. Stormwater Management Facilities

44. Mining Activities

48. Commercial Shellfish Mariculture Activities

50. Underground Coal Mining Activities

51. Land-Based Renewable Energy Generation Facilities

52. Water-Based Renewable Energy Generation Pilot Projects

55. Seaweed Mariculture Activities

56. Finfish Mariculture Activities

57. Electric Utility Line and Telecommunications Activities

58. Utility Line Activities for Water and Other Substances

How Can Pond Help?

Pond’s regulatory specialists have reached out to multiple USACE Districts to discuss the situation. USACE regulatory staff have confirmed the inability to authorize applications for coverage under the 2021 NWPs and have also indicated that they are unable to authorize Individual or Standard Permits at this time. District staff indicated that Pre-construction Notifications (“PCNs”) for coverage were still being accepted and reviewed but that authorization cannot be issued until the 401 Certification issue is resolved. Applications for coverage under the 2017 NWPs or Letters of Permission can still be authorized. We anticipate forthcoming guidance from USEPA regarding next steps for moving forward with 401 Certifications under the “1971 Rule” as they move forward with revised rulemaking. It is also possible that the vacatur may be appealed and could be stayed or otherwise limited.

In the meantime, Pond is working closely with our clients across many of the affected industries to inform them of the situation and collaboratively evaluate contingencies and alternatives. In some cases, this may mean simply delaying projects until the issue is resolved. In other cases, Pond is working to identify revisions to project plans which may avoid the need for Section 404 permitting all together and thereby sidestep the issue. As we near the end of the calendar year, this unanticipated challenge can also have implications for financial forecasting and capital improvement budgets. Pond is assisting many clients with reallocating program budgets to accelerate shovel-ready projects which are not constrained by this issue. Pond’s environmental team maintains close communication with multiple USACE Districts and will continue to monitor the situation. If you are concerned about how this may affect your projects, then please do not hesitate to reach out any of Pond’s environmental leaders to discuss specific considerations and implications.

Glenn Martin, PWS, CE

Glenn Martin, PWS, CE

Director of Environmental Services

With more than 15 years’ experience in the environmental space, Glenn has permitted hundreds of miles of corridor studies for linear infrastructure and thousands of acres of site work. A Professional Wetland Scientist and Certified Ecologist, Glenn is an expert in stream and wetland delineation and assessment, coastal permitting, and NEPA analysis and documentation.

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