A group of residents has used the courts for four years to delay new Paulding airport construction tied to proposed passenger airline service.
Now, they have won a judge’s order that bars construction that airport officials say is not associated with passenger service.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig L. Schwall Sr. recently reversed an administrative law judge’s ruling and ordered the Georgia Environmental Protection Division not to allow construction of a parking lot on top of a stream because it does not qualify for an exemption given to structures which drain a “roadway.”
The Paulding County Airport Authority had considered a plan for two years that includes new hangars and business space near its terminal building at Silver Comet Field airport in west Paulding.
Airport Authority CEO Terry Tibbitts said the authority was “evaluating our options now” on the plan designed to spur business activity at the facility, which has struggled to gain tenants throughout its 10-year history.
Tibbitts said he could not comment because it was an ongoing legal issue.
The residents included Bob and Mary Board, Janice and Jordan Louie, Susan Wilkins and Anthony Avery.
Wilkins said she believed the proposed project “would cause irreparable damage” to the Boards’ property near the airport and damage the adjacent Paulding Forest “which is of interest to all six of us,” she said.
Within the airport authority’s plans were driveway and parking areas containing 324 spaces for businesses in an area that includes a state-designated trout stream on the airport’s 163-acre site in west Paulding County.
Plans called for diverting the stream through one of two 2,300-foot pipes built “in parallel along the bottom of the stream,” and “grading and backfilling of the stream valley,” including a 10-foot layer of fill dirt over the pipes, the order stated.
The project was planned within a 50-foot buffer area the state mandates be free of development along such streams, it stated.
After the Environmental Protection Division initially denied a permit in May 2017, the Paulding County Airport Authority in June submitted an update which included drawings of a proposed Terminal Area Expansion Project with location of the hangars.
The state agency then said the revised plan “demonstrates that all proposed buffer impacts associated with the subject project are necessary to construct a series of roadway drainage structures” and “therefore, a variance from EPD will not be necessary,” according to the order.
However, Schwall’s recent order said, “For the roadway drainage structure exemption to apply to a project, it must involve the construction of a device that conveys water under a ‘roadway,’” or a “traveled way consisting of one or more defined lanes.”
Georgia law defines "roadway" as "that portion of a highway improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the berm or shoulder.” However, three of the features depicted in the project drawings were parking lots, the order stated.
Wilkins said it was “not clear” the project is unrelated to the airport authority’s plan for commercial passenger flights — something airport officials have denied.
The airport authority approved a plan in 2012 to use a private company to recruit a commercial passenger airline as part of a larger development effort for the 163-acre facility. It also included new construction to accommodate larger aircraft.
Wilkins said the airport authority is “attempting to destroy one-half mile of trout stream and some six acres of trout stream buffers.”
If construction is allowed within the stream buffer “the airport authority could build whatever it wanted on top of it in the future, including facilities to support commercial operations,” Wilkins said.