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FAA to Subject Paulding Airport to Rigorous Environmental Review

Landowners agree to drop their D.C. Circuit court challenge in return for FAA commitment to conduct comprehensive environmental assessment, newly transparent public process, and public meeting in Paulding County.

A proposed expansion of Paulding County Airport will undergo a comprehensive, federal environmental assessment with opportunities for public comment and at least one public meeting, under a settlement reached today between Paulding County residents and the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Aviation Administration.

The settlement follows a lawsuit filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals in
Washington, D.C. by attorneys in Atlanta and Washington on behalf of six residents of Paulding County. The lawsuit alleged that the Paulding County Airport Authority disguised the scope of its intent to convert a recently-built general aviation reliever airport into a commercial service airport, and that the FAA wrongly issued environmental short-cuts, called “Categorical Exclusions,” in authorizing the county to proceed on a piecemeal basis for work on a taxiway extension and runway safety area. 
 
“Under this 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,” said Atlanta attorney Charles McKnight Jr. of the firm of Nations, Toman & McKnight, LLP, who, along with Peter Steenland of the Sidley, Austin LLP firm in Washington, D.C., represents the landowners opposing this project. Mr. McKnight, who is also representing some residents in a separate Georgia state court action challenging the validity of bonds to fund some of these airport actions, added: “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.”

Paulding County Airport is currently a small, general aviation facility northwest of Atlanta. The Airport Authority announced a plan to attract commercial service and establish the airport as metro Atlanta’s second commercial passenger airport. The Authority had announced that it was in negotiations with airlines to begin commercial service by the end of the year, but the settlement agreement means that this will now be pushed back significantly because the FAA must complete its 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. 

Following publication of a draft of the environmental assessment, the settlement agreement calls for the FAA to give 30-days notice of when it will hold a public meeting in Paulding County so that all interested parties can provide oral as well as written 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.

Related Dallas-Hiram Patch stories:
Why Delta Air Lines Opposes Paulding Airport
Paulding County Chamber: Myths Vs. Facts on Silver Comet Field
Commissioner: Airport Authority Pushed Changes Through Backdoor
Upset Residents Want to be Heard about Airport's Expansion Plans
County and Propeller Investments Announce Silver Comet Field

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