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FAA, DOJ halt Paulding County Airport expansion for environmental review

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In local breaking news, the proposed expansion of Paulding County Georgia Airport will undergo a comprehensive, federal environmental assessment with opportunities for public comment and at least one public meeting, under a settlement reached Monday between Paulding County, GA residents and the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Aviation Administration.

The report came from Citizens for a Better Paulding County and Save the Paulding County Airport in a release to the local Paulding County Georgia media on Monday.

The settlement follows a lawsuit filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. by attorneys in Atlanta and Washington on behalf of six residents of Paulding County.

The lawsuit alleged that the Paulding County Airport Authority disguised the scope of its intent to convert a recently-built general aviation reliever airport into a commercial service airport, and that the FAA wrongly issued environmental short-cuts, called “Categorical Exclusions,” in authorizing the county to proceed on a piecemeal basis for work on a taxiway extension and runway safety area.

In 2004, the airport was built only for general aviation purposes, not commercial airline service as outlined in a questionnaire document posted on the official Paulding County government website portal. It would have also included a business complex surrounding the airport.

The original master plan for the airport can be found here and does not include commercial airline service.

“Under this agreement, the secretive plan to transform Paulding County Airport from a modest general aviation facility into Atlanta’s second passenger airport will finally be subjected to transparency, a vigorous FAA environmental review, and a public opportunity for comment,” said Atlanta attorney Charles McKnight Jr. of the firm of Nations, Toman & McKnight, LLP, who, along with Peter Steenland of the Sidley, Austin LLP firm in Washington, D.C., represents the landowners opposing this project.

Mr. McKnight, who is also representing some residents in a separate Georgia state court action challenging the validity of bonds to fund some of these airport actions, added, “It is gratifying that the residents of Paulding County will finally have an opportunity to make their voices heard on a project that could fundamentally change the very nature of Paulding County, and cause significant adverse environmental impacts.”

Paulding County Airport is currently a small, general aviation facility northwest of Atlanta. The Airport Authority announced a plan to attract commercial service and establish the airport as metro Atlanta’s second commercial passenger airport. The Authority had announced that it was in negotiations with airlines to begin commercial service by the end of the year, but the settlement agreement means that this will now be pushed back significantly because the FAA must complete its comprehensive environmental assessment of the proposal before approving any airport application for a “Part 139 airport operating certificate” or approving an airline application to serve Paulding Airport.

Following publication of a draft of the environmental assessment, the settlement agreement calls for the FAA to give 30-days’ notice of when it will hold a public meeting in Paulding County so that all interested parties can provide oral as well as written comments on the assessment. The Agreement also indicates that the FAA may decide upon review to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement, which would delay the project for more than a year.

The concerns of the expansion of the Paulding County Airport began when CEO Brett Smith of Propeller Investments, whose 2012 failed attempt to commercialize Briscoe Field in Gwinnett County, GA due to public outcry and opposition, made a secretive deal with the Paulding County Airport Authority (Calvin Thompson, Boyd L. Austin, David A. Austin, Blake Swafford, Doris Devey, Carolyn Wright, Alan Shipp, James C. Underwood, Kerry Tidmore, Ellis Aston and Tom Cable) behind closed doors and without the knowledge of the county residents to commercialize the county’s publicly owned, taxpayer supported airport.

The Paulding County Airport resides in Paulding County’s Post 2 Commissioner Todd Pownall’s district.

Mr. Pownall was kept out of the secretive airport expansion deal that would have included commercial airline service and would have voted no if he had known.

Tom Spigolon writer of the Neighbor Newspaper on December 18, 2013, said that Post 2 Commissioner Todd Pownall wrote a letter to Delta CEO Richard Anderson earlier this month because Austin’s earlier letter appeared to come from the entire county commission and “People of Paulding County”.

“It says to the Delta CEO that was not the view of the board of commissioners that is not my view and that is not the view of the citizens of Paulding, and especially the ones in my area,” Pownall told Spigolon.

Pownall also told Spigolon and also told the Paulding County Republican Examiner a a few weeks ago that he had hundreds of phone calls, text messages, and emails supporting his position against establishment of commercial air service.

“Even the people who say they might be OK with the commercial service, they’re saying the way it was done was wrong and it’s got to stop,” Pownall said.

According to the agreement, no commercial passenger service certificate can be issued until the environmental assessment is complete.

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