More than 300 people gathered in a Paulding airport hangar Tuesday evening for a public hearing on a plan to bring airline flights to Paulding County's airport.
The hearing on a draft environmental assessment on the plan to commercialize Paulding's airport drew residents in favor of the airport commercialization plan as well as those strongly opposed to it. More than 70 people signed up to speak.
The environmental assessment looks at issues such as effects on wetlands and endangered species and the potential noise the airport would create.
But many of those opposed to the airport expansion spoke of potential disruption to their way of life in a bedroom community, where the airport sits next to forested land and a wildlife management area.
"Please take your noise, your pollution away from here, from our beautiful surroundings," said Paulding resident Bob Board. "We will take our current way of life, our pristine forest and abundant wildlife just as they are today."
"Most folks moved to Paulding County to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city of Atlanta, Riverdale, College Park, etc.," said Paulding resident Kenneth Coggins.
Coggins and others raised opposition to the way the airport commercialization plan was hatched with little public input, and questioned forecasts for airline traffic. Three of five county commissioners now oppose the airport commercialization.
But those in favor of commercializing the airport talked of progress and the opportunity to generate more jobs.
"We're looking at people that disagree, but in the end, I'm about bringing jobs to Paulding," said Paulding commission chairman David Austin.
"Progress is progress. We never like it when it's in our backyard, but we like the benefits that it brings," said Paulding resident Terry Tibbitts. "The jobs that potentially can be generated by this airport represent high-tech, good-paying jobs."
The long-awaited public hearing and environmental assessment were required in a settlement of a legal challenge against the Federal Aviation Administration in 2013.
Meanwhile, other lawsuits continue between residents, the airport authority and the county over the airport commercialization plan.
The draft environmental assessment found that commercialization would have no significant impact. If the final report comes to the same conclusion, it could clear a major hurdle for the airport commercialization -- although residents in opposition to the plan could also file a legal challenge and seek an injunction to block the commercialization. The FAA could also decide to do a more extensive study with an environmental impact statement.