Legal Headwinds Stall Paulding County Airport Expansion Plan

For the second time in four years, efforts to bring a second airport to metro Atlanta seem to be falling apart. Four years ago, plans to offer scheduled passenger service at Gwinnett County’s Briscoe Field were scrapped after many county residents expressed opposition to the plan, and the response to the county’s request for proposals by Propeller Airports was determined to be insufficient. A year later, Propeller Airports announced it would try again, this time in Paulding County, where Propeller Investments hoped to the county’s regional airport into Silver Comet Field at Paulding Northwest Atlanta. Propeller’s subsidiary, Silver Comet Terminal Partners, signed a contract with Paulding’s Airport Authority to operate the airport and bring in commercial service.

While the Airport Authority remained supportive of the airport expansion, the Paulding Board of Commissioners expressed their opposition to the project after a change in its composition following elections. In January 2015, the commission voted 3-2 to oppose the plan. And recently, dueling lawsuits have been filed over whether the county or its airport authority were authorized to sign the contracts with Propeller. The AJC tells the tale:
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Three separate lawsuits — filed by Paulding County, a group of residents and the airport authority’s development partner — each ask whether the Paulding County Airport Authority had the legal right to apply for commercial certification from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The lawsuits come as the airport authority remains supportive of the airport commercialization, while a majority of county commissioners are now against it and are seeking to overturn the airport authority’s plans.

The lawsuits question whether the airport authority was authorized to apply to commercialize the airport, or whether the county as the owner of the airport holds the right to make such a decision.

Adding to the confusion, Propeller stopped making bond payments to the county in January over the issue. The payments are required by the agreement Propeller signed with the Authority, which the county now says is invalid. In a press release, Brett Smith, CEO of Propeller defended the company’s actions:

The Board of Commissioners’ decision to bend to outside corporate self-interests and reverse course on bringing commercial service to Paulding County is a travesty for the taxpayers of this County. The facts laid out in this complaint clearly demonstrate that the Airport Authority was well within its authority to enter into these agreements. The agreements were either legally authorized or they weren’t, but the County can’t have it both ways.

We’d be happy to resume making bond payments, but we aren’t doing that until we have clarity as to whether or not our agreements with the County are valid. We need clarification from the courts on these matters before we spend millions of more dollars. In the meantime, the County Commission is costing tax-payers money.

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John Vestal Recent comment authors
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John Vestal
John Vestal

+6 for the headline, Jon.