Paulding deal blocks county airport commercialization for 25 years

AJC file photo of Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport

AJC file photo of Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport

Residents of Paulding County who sued to prevent airline flights at their local airport have reached a settlement in which the county agrees not to commercialize the airport for 25 years.

The move concludes a years-long legal battle that has roiled county politics since 2013, when New York developer Propeller Investments announced a plan to expand the Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport and bring in airline service.

“No one expected it to last eight years,” said Sue Wilkins, one of the six residents who filed suit to stop the airport commercialization. “But my conviction was too strong to ever give up.”

Another party to the settlement is the City of Atlanta, which sued to stop the commercialization of the Paulding airport that could compete with Hartsfield-Jackson International. Atlanta sold a parcel of land to Paulding for the airport in 2007, and a restriction blocking passenger service at the Paulding airport will be added to the land deed as part of the agreement filed in court this week.

County attorney Jayson Phillips said the deal settles “a matter that’s been going on for a considerable amount of time in Paulding County.”

The airport commercialization effort had already lost steam in recent years. Delta Air Lines fought Paulding’s efforts to create an airport that might compete with its Atlanta hub. Residents voted to unseat county commissioners who supported commercialization of the airport, which turned the tide of political support against the project and eventually led to the cancellation of the Paulding airport’s lease with developer Propeller Airports.

But some of the lawsuits over the airport commercialization continued.

With the settlement, the City of Atlanta and the Paulding residents who sued their county agreed to dismiss their lawsuits pending in Paulding County Superior Court. The residents also agreed not to block airport expansion projects unrelated to commercialization, including plans by the state to build an aircraft mechanics school and flight school at the Paulding airport.

As part of the settlement, Atlanta also agreed not to designate any of its property in Paulding as a public park, recreation area, wildlife and waterfowl refuge or historic site that could block development of the land.

The legal wrangling over the airport isn’t over. In a separate case, Propeller Investments in August filed an appeal of a decision by a federal judge upholding the Paulding County Airport Authority’s termination of its lease deal and land agreement.