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Talks resurface in co-ownership of airport

By Justin Boron

Economic development of the predominantly agricultural area surrounding Tara Field may be the driving motivation behind Henry County's push to gain joint ownership of the airport currently owned by Clayton County.

The undeveloped tracts of land, over which Henry County holds zoning power, could provide an area for industrial growth, said Henry County Commissioner Gerry Adams, who also manages the airport.

"It could be an economic engine for the region by increasing commercial growth and jobs," he said.

The resurgence of co-ownership discussions after a year of intermittent negotiations stems from Henry County's recent allocation of $603,188 to its possible $13 million purchase of property surrounding the airport.

Henry County's move has swung the momentum of the waning discussions between the two counties as the Clayton County Commission prepares to consider the issue at its next meeting Sept. 7.

Setting aside the funds was crucial step in Henry County's attempt to buy property around the airport, which Clayton officials stipulated in its negotiations as a measure to balance each county's involvement in the airport.

"Henry's move shows that it stands ready to proceed if Clayton County approves co-ownership," County Commission Chairman Crandle Bray said. "It almost puts the two counties on equal footing."

Co-ownership would be advantageous to both counties, Adams said, because it would qualify Tara Field as a regional airport, enabling it to receive federal grants that could be used to expand the airport.

But Emory Brock, Clayton County's director of economic development, said he worries that an over-expansion in the scope of the airport's use could lead to the creation of another high traffic, cargo hub like Dekalb-Peachtree Airport.

"Right now Tara Field has enormous potential for growth," he said. "Too much expansion could cause a lot of problems for a lot of folks."

The impact of the airport's expansion would extend beyond the homes on Ga. Highway 19/41 into the metro Atlanta region, causing logistical difficulties with the already busy air traffic schedule, Brock said.

Residential growth in south Clayton also could be hampered by increased noise pollution and traffic brought on by an expanded Tara Field, he said.

"We'd be glad to work with Henry County regardless," Brock said. "But the concern is what do they want with the airport.

"They need to take a hard look at what's happening around Tara Field," he said.