Paulding airport dogfight intensifies

Firm trying to bring airline service to stop bond payments, leaving county on hook.

The controversial plan to bring airline flights to Paulding County’s tiny airport has hit new turbulence.

The company behind the plan says it will stop making payments on airport bonds, citing opposition to commercialization of Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport from county commissioners.

That leaves it to the county to make a $401,140 bond payment due Feb. 1. Payments are due twice a year on the bonds, which financed a taxiway expansion needed for airline operations.

The company, Silver Comet Terminal Partners, run by Propeller Investments CEO Brett Smith, has made bond payments under a 2013 deal with the county airport authority that launched the commercialization plan.

Smith said in a letter his company will make no more payments “until the County ceases its blatant interference.” He said Silver Comet remains committed to developing the airport.

The plan still needs federal approvals, as well as an airline committed to providing service to the airport about 35 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta.

The commercialization plan, which envisions a few daily flights to leisure destinations initially, at first had support from the commission but quickly generated opposition from some Paulding residents. Opponents won open seats in 2014 elections and now hold three of five spots.

Reversing course

Since then the county has sued the airport authority, sought to withdraw its application for commercial certification of the airport and voted out some members of the airport authority board.

Smith contends commissioners are interfering with the authority’s contractual obligation to seek commercial certification.

When the airport authority issued the $3.6 million in bonds for taxiway work, some raised questions about the possibility of the expense coming back to taxpayers.

Taxpayers are “probably not going to be real happy to know that the company the airport authority went into business with is not going to keep their commitments,” said commissioner Todd Pownall, a commercialization foe. “Maybe it’s because their investors are wanting them to back out.”

Commission chairman David Austin, who backs airport commercialization, said the county has reserves to make the bond payment.

‘All this negativity’

“I never dreamed it would come to this,” Austin said. “I’m just sort of tired of all this negativity.”

Asked if making bond payments might affect tax rates, he said, “It’s hard for me to say right now … My recommendation would be that we back off all the negative that’s going towards the commercialization of the airport and let it take its normal course.”

Paulding airport director Blake Swafford, who helped engineer the commercialization plan, said, “I certainly understand why the folks from Silver Comet don’t want to make any more bond payments when the county continues to throw up every roadblock it possibly can.”

Swafford said the airport authority still supports the plan, even if the commission doesn’t.

“We still think that it’s viable. We still think it’s going to be economically a good thing for us,” Swafford said.

Backers of commercialization contend some of the opposition has been orchestrated by Delta Air Lines and the city of Atlanta. Delta and Atlanta officials have openly discouraged the idea of a second airline airport in metro Atlanta, saying it would divert resources from Hartsfield-Jackson International.

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