The settlement between Paulding residents, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Aviation Administration will delay the proposed expansion of Paulding’s Silver Comet Field airport as a comprehensive federal environmental assessment is done and opportunities for public comment and at least one public meeting are given, according to information from an attorney for the residents.
Atlanta attorney Charles McKnight Jr. of the firm Nations, Toman & McKnight LLP said under the 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.”
McKnight and Peter Steenland of the Sidley, Austin LLP firm in Washington, D.C., represent Paulding residents opposing the project.
“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,” McKnight stated in the release.
Paulding airport officials have said the process was done as openly as possible as it worked to lure a potential developer which could bring future employers to the county. In addition, they noted the airport’s governing board took a public vote when it leased part of the facility to Silver Comet Partners, which announced it would seek a passenger airline as part of its efforts to recruit aerospace businesses to adjacent land it would develop.
Airport director Blake Swafford said he and other county officials helped negotiate the settlement. Work will be halted on a 600-foot runway extension until the assessment is complete.
“We’re perfectly happy with it. We agreed with the FAA to do the [environmental assessment],” he said. “We have already gotten all the estimates together … for the FAA. They are reviewing the documents now.
“We don’t expect any environmental impacts,” Swafford said. “We’re going to go through the process and are very comfortable and confident that there won’t be anything that will come out of it as far as the environmental impact [is concerned].”
The agreement follows a lawsuit filed by attorneys in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington on behalf of six Paulding residents.
The lawsuit alleged that the Paulding County Airport Authority disguised the scope of its intent to convert a five-year-old general aviation reliever airport into a commercial service airport, and that the FAA wrongly issued environmental “short-cuts,” or “categorical exclusions,” in authorizing the county to build a taxiway extension and runway safety area, the release stated.
The settlement agreement means the FAA now must complete a 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, the release stated.
Following publication of a draft of the environmental assessment, the settlement agreement calls for the FAA to give 30-day notice of when it will hold a public meeting in Paulding County so the public can give written and spoken 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.
McKnight also is representing some residents in a separate Georgia state court case challenging the validity of bonds to fund expansion of the airport taxiway.