Environmental assessment could delay Paulding airport endeavor until 2015



The elimination of one bump in the road has created another for supporters of a Paulding County commercial airport, one that could delay the project anywhere from two months to a year.

Attorneys representing six Paulding residents who oppose the commercialization agreed Monday to drop a challenge in the U.S. Court of Appeals in exchange for an environmental assessment by the Federal Aviation Administration — a split decision, but one that gives opponents much of what they were seeking. The suit had challenged the FAA’s environmental clearance for the airport.

The agreement did not involve either the Paulding County Commission or Propeller Investments, the company selected in 2012 by the county’s airport authority to lease and operate the small terminal at the airport.

The settlement allows the airport authority to complete a runway safety zone and taxiway widening projects.

Peter Steenland, co-counsel for the residents, said he estimates the assessment, which includes public input, could take at least a year.

“The product of the environmental assessment is a freeze of any other actions at the airport that could facilitate the proposed commercial development,” Steenland said, adding the county or airport developers could be asked by the FAA to pay for the study. The cost remains unclear, and the FAA did not have a comment.

The FAA analysis could include input on whether a second metro Atlanta commercial airport is even needed, Steenland said. Other issues that could come up: Possible alternatives to the Paulding site; consequences of inaction; number of flights expected; noise issues; air pollution from planes, cars and other vehicles; and indirect impact from potential accompanying development such as hotels and other infrastructure.

“We’re going to suggest it’s going to take some time,” Steenland said.

Supporters of the commercialization plan estimate the assessment will be completed in two to six months.

“We feel confident we’ll meet the expectations of the environmental review,” airport executives said in a statement.

Commercialization advocates have argued that no new environmental tests were needed because Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport opened just five years ago and its commercial flights would be minimal in number.

It has been nearly three months since Paulding leaders went public with their plan to expand their general aviation airport into a second commercial airport for metro Atlanta. The endeavor was pitched as part of a broader economic development initiative that would lure aviation businesses to a county hit hard by the recession and housing bust.

Opponents of the Paulding plan argue that a small commercial outfit could conceivably grow into a much larger operation with the potential to jeopardize Hartsfield-Jackson International’s status as the world’s busiest airport.

Delta Air Lines, which dominates at Hartsfield-Jackson, and city of Atlanta officials have announced their opposition. “Once commercial service is established at a secondary airport, no one can guarantee that it won’t grow and become a much larger airport, no matter how small the initial service might be,” Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter said in November.

Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport still lacks an airline, although Nevada-based discounter Allegiant Airlines is widely considered the most likely candidate.

Two residents, Susan Wilkins and Anthony Avery, have also appealed court approval of $3.4 million in bonds for a taxiway expansion in Paulding. A judge ruled in the county’s favor but the bond sale is delayed pending appeal.