Atlanta threatens Paulding lawsuit

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Atlanta city officials recently sent a letter warning Paulding County they might go to court to block plans for commercial airline operations at Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport. Their argument: Part of the Paulding airport sits on land the county bought back from the city several years ago; the city says it understood that land would be used only for noncommercial aviation. Today, county and city leaders argue their cases for and against a second commercial airport.

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Mayor Reed’s threat is anti-regionalism

By David Austin

“We have a decision to make. Either we are going to be a region, or we are not. I believe that we must be a region. And if we choose not to be, we are choosing to enter a period of decline, because declining markets get declining investment, and we understand that capital goes where it is needed and stays where it is well cared for.”

These were the words of Mayor Kasim Reed during his second inaugural speech on Jan. 8, 2014 — just weeks before he received heavy criticism for not realizing we are a region, joined by roadways and lifestyles, during a major weather event. His leadership was needed regardless of city limits or county lines.

The mayor’s vision of a regional approach suffered yet another setback — by his own hand — when, on June 13, the city of Atlanta threatened to sue Paulding County if it did not cease efforts to obtain certification to start commercial airline operations at Silver Comet Field.

Most people aren’t aware that Atlanta owns more than 10,000 acres in Paulding, purchased in the 1970s specifically for a second commercial airport.

In 2007, Paulding County purchased 163 acres of that land for the development of the airport — a purchase that was sited, approved and funded by the Federal Aviation Administration. Current development of Silver Comet Field includes the pursuit of companies in the aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul industry, limited commercial air service and potentially even aeronautical research.

With its June 13 letter, the city of Atlanta ended months of silence on the issue. Why?

Could it be that Atlanta has jumped into the fray because Delta, and its legions of lawyers, haven’t been able to destroy Paulding’s little opportunity?

After several court decisions now in our favor, Atlanta steps onto the field threatening legal action.

Perhaps Atlanta and Delta will tirelessly pursue any opportunity to prevent consumer choice and economic growth regardless of its flagrant hypocrisy.

Have you ever noticed how expensive airline tickets are when little to no competing airlines exist at a certain airport?

In the same inaugural speech, Mayor Reed stated that only 50 percent of Georgia Tech graduates, who are “disproportionately high earners, and create an ecosystem that attracts foreign and domestic direct investment and capital,” stay in metro Atlanta after graduation. He also said 75 percent of Atlanta’s science and technology graduates should remain local to enhance our reputation as a technology hub competing against other metropolitan areas around the world.

Georgia Tech’s Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering is consistently ranked one of the top five programs in the country. One would think Mayor Reed would be in favor of the development of the metro Atlanta aeronautic industry, even in Paulding County, to help him meet his goal of 75 percent.

Frankly, I am disappointed Mayor Reed has resorted to threatening legal action against regional economic development. I would expect the mayor of any city, especially a top 10 market like Atlanta, to back up his talk with actions that support a free market.

When Mayor Reed spoke to the Paulding Chamber of Commerce, he said “Atlanta is not the enemy,” but surrounding states are. His recent letter seems more like a declaration of war than the supportive role of an ally.

In Paulding, we are looking at smart development that enhances our quality of life by providing quality jobs for our residents. We simply want a “level playing field” to develop economic opportunities to benefit everyone, without outside governments — or corporations — trying to hold us back.

David Austin is chairman of the Paulding County Commission.

2nd airport will damage region

By Michael J. Geisler

A small airfield constructed on an abandoned racetrack in 1925 has grown into the world’s busiest airport, serving almost 95 million passengers annually and providing $32.5 billion in economic benefits to our region.

We, at the city of Atlanta, are proud of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s status as the world’s busiest for 16 consecutive years. But those numbers are more than just a source of pride or another statistic in an annual report. Hartsfield-Jackson directly provides jobs to more than 58,000 people in the metropolitan region, many of which are in the well-paying aviation and aerospace industries. Another 400,000 indirect jobs are created as a result of the airport.

While other cities struggle to create and hold onto jobs, our airport continues to be Georgia’s leading economic generator. Yet, great potential still exists for Hartsfield-Jackson to provide even more jobs, as Mayor Kasim Reed pushes for Atlanta to become a global logistics hub.

Hartsfield-Jackson ranks 10th among North American airports for cargo volume. Mayor Reed is committed to growing its cargo capacity.

Our position is simple, and one we’ve stated it repeatedly: A second commercial airport will damage the essential economic and development role Hartsfield-Jackson plays for the entire region.

A smaller, secondary commercial airport will draw local passengers away from Hartsfield-Jackson, making it more difficult for airlines to fill flights, resulting in reduced schedules and fewer destinations. Further, a second airport would cut revenue at Hartsfield-Jackson, which is needed to maintain, expand and develop the region’s most valuable economic contributor.

Our position has not changed since initial news of this proposed expansion became public last fall. We simply want to be clear on where we stand.

The June 13 letter from Mayor Reed’s chief of staff, Candace Byrd, to Paulding County Commission Chairman David Austin, was sent to preserve the city’s right to initiate litigation and, as a courtesy, to formally state the city’s opposition to Paulding’s application to convert its general aviation airport into a commercial airport.

Atlanta sold approximately 163 acres to Paulding in 2007. The contract for the land sale made it clear it was to be used only to expand general aviation at the Paulding airport.

The city would never have sold the property to Paulding had we known it had plans to convert the airport from general aviation uses to commercial. We believe the current plan for commercial aviation is a breach of that agreement.

The city sincerely hopes this issue can be resolved amicably. But the bottom line is that we did not provide that land to create a competitor for ourselves.

In recently reported remarks, Chairman Austin stated that Mayor Reed spoke to the Paulding County Chamber of Commerce in 2011 about the importance of regionalism. Austin went on to say that city officials have turned on Paulding “like a rabid dog” once it began to enjoy success. That statement could not be more untrue.

What he also failed to say is that Mayor Reed visited Paulding after receiving multiple requests to do so in 2011.

Let’s be crystal clear: There have been few stronger champions for the metropolitan region than Mayor Reed. Nowhere is this more evident than in his tireless support and pursuit of the Water Resources Development Act. Recently signed by President Barack Obama, the bill authorizes critical funding for the deepening of the Port of Savannah, which will keep Georgia and metropolitan Atlanta competitive for decades to come.

Hartsfield-Jackson has been a clear and unquestionable success for our region throughout its history. Let’s make sure it stays that way.

Michael J. Geisler is chief operating officer for the city of Atlanta.

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