Tortoises impact airport tower project

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Construction on the new 142-foot tall air traffic control tower at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport is just about complete.

It’s another step as the airport continues to grow.

But before the tower opens next month, a bank of trees has to be removed. “There is about 21 acres that we are getting ready to clear so we make sure all of the controllers have line of sight on all the movement areas including taxiways and runways and approaches,” airport director Gene Conrad said.

But recently airport officials learned they have between 55 and 65 gopher tortoises and their burrows, which need to be cleared.

“We are going to take them out and take them to a sanctuary and they can enjoy the rest of their lives somewhere else, but we got to keep moving and growing this facility and moving forward,” Conrad added.

Before the tortoises can even be touched, state permits have to be approved and issued. “They have to dig the turtles up. They have to removed and they have to be very careful because they are endangered. They are on the protected species list,” wildlife animal trapper Dustin Hooper said.

Hooper is not involved in the project but he says removal steps must be taken in order to be good stewards of the land.

“We always encroach on the animal’s territory. We have to do this. We can’t stop our lives we have to keep going so we have to remove them the way they are supposed to be removed. In the end everybody is happy and life goes on,” he added.

The airport will pay tens of thousands of dollars in fees and costs to relocate the tortoises. “It is not cheap but it is the right thing to do and that’s what we need to do,” Conrad said.

The land isn’t just being cleared so air traffic controllers have a clear line of sight. Eventually it will also be developed with hangers and maintenance facilities.

State officials say the permits could be issued next week and it could take up to two weeks to relocate the tortoises. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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