Little did she know the same plan for passenger airline service being considered for a Lawrenceville airport in early 2011 would resurface about seven miles from her home in 2013, Wilkins said. New York-based Propeller Investments earlier this month announced it had leased much of Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport in an effort to bring commercial passenger airline service to the comparatively small facility on Rockmart Highway west of Dallas.
Wilkins said residents of her neighborhood are organizing to oppose the plan any way they can. That opposition may include calls to the Federal Aviation Administration – which must approve the plan and has control over needed grants to make the facility compatible with passenger jets.
“That’s one of the things people need to know,” she said. “It’s not over yet.”
Airport director Blake Swafford reportedly contacted Smith in 2012 shortly after company director Brett Smith was unable to convince Gwinnett County officials to allow the company to bring passenger service to Briscoe Field.
The Paulding County Airport Authority, which manages the five-year-old airport, approved the lease at its November 2012 meeting. Along with passenger service, Smith said his company would recruit aerospace companies to the area. Airport authority members saw that as a needed benefit in a county with 75 percent of working residents traveling outside Paulding to jobs.
Authority members and supporters of the plan maintain the agreement was not made secretly – noting the lease was approved at a public meeting. Critics contend it was done in a way to blunt public opposition through a lease from the typically low-profile airport authority rather than the county governing body – with which Smith had to deal in Gwinnett.
One person who maintains he knew nothing about the lease was Post 2 County Commissioner Todd Pownall, whose district includes the airport’s 164-acre property.
Commission Chairman David Austin told Pownall during an Oct. 8 meeting all commissioners were informed about the plan in 2012.
Austin said Pownall likely chose not to return phone calls or emails about the plan so he could claim ignorance if constituents called to complain. He also implied officials did not tell Pownall about it because he could not be trusted with information which could sink the project if make public.
Last week, Pownall said he never received any emails and never was told about Propeller’s plans.
“If they feel I can’t be trusted because I’m honest and open with the citizens, that’s OK,” Pownall said.
Wilkins said opponents have started a Facebook page titled Stop Paulding County Airport Expansion. She said what upset her was residents did not know and had no say on the lease before airport officials approved it.
She said her neighborhood – which is roughly in line with the southeast end of the airport’s runway – and its residents are worried about everything from increased air and noise pollution to increases in vehicle traffic if aerospace companies begin to develop.
“So many people are not aware of what’s going on,” Wilkins said.