The study, mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration, will encompass a variety of factors to lay out the necessary steps to complete a number of possible expansion and compliance opportunities.
One project on the list in particular has drawn ire from area residents. The Cartersville airport is currently grandfathered under a FAA mandate for runway overrun, calling for a minimum safety distance beyond the established runway free of obstacles and structures. To create this additional safety measure, engineering consultants working with the Cartersville-Bartow County Airport Authority and the Georgia Department of Transportation have identified an area to the south of the existing runway.
South of the airport, along Ga. Highway 61 are about 20 homes that could be affected. Effects of this proposed project would range from altitude easements to restrict the maximum height of trees and structures to the possible acquisition and demolition of homes. A church also lies in this affected area.
“I got a letter back in July about the plans, so we formed a committee to discuss this and find out information about what y’all are going to do. Bottom line is, I’ve gone door to door talking to people and I haven’t met a single person that’s for this expansion or that’s willing to give up their home and property for this airport expansion,” said Ronnie Burt, organizer of a group of area residents. “You’ve got to think about where we are. We all worked hard to get this property. I bought my house a year ago, I spent a lot of money on it and I’m sure not going to let this happen, I can tell you that. And I think everybody in this room feels the same way.”
Authority members and legal counsel Keith Lovell fielded questions from those present regarding the study and possible expansion plans. The answers to most questions, however, are still unknown, and those leading Tuesday’s public meeting informed guests that no decisions are being made at this time. The study will not be complete for another two to three months, at which time the decision process will begin for the airport’s future.
“At this stage in the game, we’re a lot like y’all. We don’t know exactly what will become as a result of it. We know the study has been mandated. The feds gave us the money to do the study. We have to do the study and then as a result of that study, one of these many options will be pursued. One thing I want you to realize is that this won’t be done in a vacuum or behind closed doors. Part of this process will be numerous public hearings that will be required,” Lovell said. “One thing that I’ve been asked by several people is, what do I do about my property? Is this going to happen tomorrow? Should I buy, should I sell? To be honest, we have no idea. You should treat your property like you’ve always treated your property. At this point, this is a proposal plan by our engineers to comply with [FAA mandates] they have to do various studies and reviews. There is no guarantee that anything you see there on the south end is what will be the result of those studies. That is their best guesstimate at this point.”
Authority chairman Bob Hite emphasized the airport’s economic impact. Determined by the Georgia Department of Labor, the Cartersville airport contributed more than $50 million to the local economy in 2010, including 436 jobs, making the Cartersville-Bartow County Airport one of the state’s busiest and most impactful community airports. The problem, however, is one Hite sees happening all over the nation to airports of all sizes.
“This problem is not unique to Cartersville. ... You build an airport out in the country and then as cities and towns grow, you get surrounded and that’s exactly what we’ve got here. It’s a bad situation, we certainly understand how you feel,” Hite said. “As far as what is happening south of the field, the only expansion per say is to acquire property strictly for safety. It has nothing to do with building hangars, taxiways, runways — it is strictly safety.”
Other concerns centered around expansion efforts increasing airport traffic. Area resident William Young Sr. voiced his fear that the local airport will eventually grow to the size of a commercial airport. Authority members assured those in attendance that due to property limitations, commercial flight could never enter Cartersville. The runway overrun expansion would only work to maintain current operations and put the Cartersville airport into full compliance with FAA regulations.
After more than an hour in discussion between residents and the authority, opinions had not changed. The authority will hold further meetings and public hearings after the study is completed; meanwhile, residents made clear their plans to continue their opposition.
“We are going to form a Stop the Airport Committee, we’re going to start a petition on the Internet, we’re going to petition door to door and we’re going to do everything we can. They stopped the airport in Gwinnett County, so we’re going to do the same,” Burt said. “I understand what you’re trying to do, but you have to understand people have worked hard to get this property and we’re not just going to lay down and roll over.”