Oct. 23--Despite opposition from some neighbors of Paulding County's airport, local officials voted Tuesday to take another major step toward preparing the small airport for airline service.
During a morning meeting at the airport's new terminal building some 38 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta, the Paulding County Airport Authority unanimously approved issuing $3.4 million in bonds to pay for a taxiway expansion.
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That was followed in the evening by the Paulding County Commission voting 3-1 to approve the 10-year bond issue.
Some residents are upset about the airport expansion after learning just this month that a lease deal was quietly struck nearly a year ago to bring airline service to the Paulding airport.
Commissioner Todd Pownall -- who represents the affected area but did not learn of the plan in advance -- voted against the bond measure, saying he can't support it "because of the way they've done things."
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The airport's lease agreement for up to 40 years is with Silver Comet Terminal Partners LLC, a company created by Brett Smith to develop the Paulding airport, attract businesses and bring in airline service. Smith, as the CEO of Propeller Investments, had attempted to bring airline service to Gwinnett County's Briscoe Field. But he was blocked last year by public opposition.
Paulding airport officials say the lease deal is done and no public referendum is needed for the plan. But they still need Federal Aviation Administration approval. An FAA decision is expected in several weeks.
Construction has begun on a runway buffer zone, and work has started to renovate the terminal to add space for ticket counters, security screening, a passenger waiting area, a gate and baggage claim.
Silver Comet officials hope to announce airline service by the end of this year.
But Paulding resident Susan Wilkins -- who has created a Facebook page called "Stop Paulding County Airport Expansion" and launched an online petition -- asked commissioners to halt the airport project until residents are better informed. "We expect to be included in major decisions like a commercial airport," she said Tuesday during the County Commission work session.
"It's unthinkable that anyone would sneak this in under the table, and then expect us to pay," Wilkins said of the airport authority bonds.
Airport and county officials, however, say the bonds will be paid for by other sources.
Although the airport authority is issuing the bonds for a taxiway expansion, the county plans to seek FAA reimbursement of the taxiway expense. But because that could take two to three years, the airport authority struck an agreement calling for Silver Comet Terminal Partners to cover the bond repayments.
The deal calls for Silver Comet to put $500,000 into an escrow account for the bond repayments, and to continue making repayments if the taxiway expense isn't reimbursed with FAA money by the time the account is depleted.
County Commission Chairman David Austin acknowledged "there's always the possibility" Paulding taxpayers could end up on the hook for the bonds because the county secures the debt instruments. Still, he said, "you move forward."
Copyright 2013 - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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