Paulding residents get say on airport bonds

Paulding County residents who oppose the commercialization of their airport will get their day in court.

A Paulding Superior Court judge is allowing residents to challenge bond financing for a taxiway project to help expand the airport. Judge Tonny Beavers granted the motion by Paulding residents Susan Wilkins and Anthony Avery to intervene in court approval of the bond issue. He set a hearing Dec. 2.

The residents seek to block $3.4 million in Paulding airport authority bonds that would fund the taxiway expansion, amid opposition to the airport’s plan to attract airline service.

Charles McKnight, the attorney representing Wilkins and Avery, filed notice of plans to take depositions from the county, the airport authority, airport director Blake Swafford and airport authority chairman Calvin Thompson this week. McKnight also has subpoenaed evidence from Silver Comet Terminal Partners, which struck a deal to lease the airport terminal as part of a plan to service limited commercial operations.

The depositions will cover everything from the airport authority contracts to communications between the airport authority and Silver Comet, plans for the expansion and financing agreements.

In court filings, McKnight said “substantial questions” surround the airport authority’s passage of the bond resolution, including why meetings were closed, the county’s involvement in the project and benefits to Silver Comet.

“Discovery is necessary to learn the underlying facts,” he argued.

In their filing, the county and airport authority denied allegations of misconduct by the residents, and said a court’s role in a bond validation hearing “is to determine whether a bond proposal is sound, feasible and reasonable… All other matters are not properly before the court.”

The county and the airport authority have said they would look to different funding sources and proceed with their plan if the bond deal were scuttled.

Silver Comet and the airport authority last month went public with their plan, which they say would involve a few flights a week by an airline. Allegiant Air has confirmed it has talked with Paulding airport officials.

The plan revived the long-simmering idea of a second commercial airport in metro Atlanta, one of the few major U.S. cities without a second airport.

Silver Comet’s principals had previously tried to bring airline service to Gwinnett County’s Briscoe Field, an idea shot down by citizen and political opposition.