Paulding Airport Pushes Growth Despite Wildlife Concerns
The Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport in Paulding County, also known as Silver Comet Field, wants to add commercial flights.
More than 300 people attended a public hearing earlier this month to discuss a recently published environmental assessment.
Opponents of the project released a statement that said they fear endangered species will be impacted.
“The Draft Environmental Assessment wholly fails to consider the significant impacts this project will have on one of the only remaining forested bat corridors from Alabama through to the Appalachians," said Nikki Castleberry, an assistant curator of vertebrate collections at the Georgia Museum of Natural History. “These bat species have already been observed to suffer from the fungal disease known as white-nose disease, and further decimation of their habitat exasperates bat population declines.”
Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport director Blake Swafford said the report shows commercial flights leaving from the city of Dallas would have minimal impact on wildlife in the area.
"The infrastructure that's already there will pretty much handle commercial service," Swafford said. "There's really not a lot of new construction that needs to be done."
Atlanta's Airport Monopoly
He added that currently, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has a monopoly on commercial flights. Delta Airlines and Mayor Kasim Reed have expressed opposition to Silver Comet Field's expansion.
"If we bring commercial service to the Paulding airport, of course, we're going to attract some of the travelers that would have gone to the city of Atlanta's airport, which will of course divert some of the revenues," Swafford said.
But Swafford said he does not think the Paulding airport would be much competition for Hartsfield-Jackson.
"I don't necessarily think that we're going to be stealing traffic or passengers from the city of Atlanta or from Hartsfield," Swafford said. "I think a lot of the folks that will come here would have either gone to Chattanooga or Birmingham or would have simply driven as opposed to flying."
Rural Bedroom Community
Swafford said in the last few decades, he's seen Paulding County grow from a "rural bedroom community" of 25,000 residents to over 150,000 residents. And he said the number of local residents who support the project outnumber those who oppose it.
"There are a lot of people who live here who would prefer not to see any growth of any kind for the next 100 years, but I just don't think that's realistic and I don't think that's economically responsible for the county not to pursue new development and new jobs in the county," Swafford said.
Swafford says public comments will be accepted through January 10, and they will be submitted along with a final environmental assessment document to the Federal Aviation Administration for a final decision.
“Once the [environmental assessment] is approved, then we will obtain our Certificate from FAA to begin commercial service,” Swafford said. “We still have to complete the federalization process to obtain TSA screening at the airport and finish up with a small amount of construction.”