Airport agreement on hold until January

By Justin Boron

A Henry-Clayton, joint-ownership agreement for Tara Field has been sidelined until January, when incoming Clayton County elected officials take office.

At a work session Tuesday, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners expressed a consensus that favored the agreement but stopped short of approving it.

Outgoing members said they did not want to leave the impact of their decision in the hands of incoming board members.

"That's a decision the new board is going to have to make," said County Commissioner Gerald Matthews, whose district is tangential to the airport.

The airport is west of Hampton in Henry County; however, Clayton County owns it and established it in 1994.

Tara Field is a small airport on Mt. Pleasant Road that serves an average of 82 planes per day, according to www.airnav.com.

Crandle Bray supported the agreement, citing the additional grants for which a two-county, regional airport would be eligible. He also said Henry County's initiative to purchase the property around the airport through $10 to $15 million in bonds would be advantageous.

Henry County Commissioner Gerry Adams, who also manages the airport, has pushed for the joint-agreement to aid expansion efforts.

The airport needs a new office building, more hangars, and a longer runway, he said.

The proposal would create equal representation on Airport Authority board and pull all current Clayton County Tara Field employees under the umbrella of the Airport Authority, Adams said.

"I'm not real surprised with their decision, but it's their call, not ours," he said.

Eldrin Bell, the Democratic-nominee for county commission chairperson, questioned the expansion's scope and the need for Henry County's involvement.

"Why can't we do what Henry County is doing with the bonds?" Bell asked.

He also expressed concern about the expansion's impact on the residents of the Clayton panhandle, where an increase in air traffic could devalue property and quality of life.

Michael Onyemenam, the Republican-nominee for Clayton County Chairperson, said he would support the agreement if he takes office.

"I have good plans for expanding that airport," he said. "It needs to come closer to the standards of Peachtree-Dekalb."

Tara Field is a recreational airport west of the Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS). Expansion could create more air traffic for special events at the AMS.

Wole Ralph, who will replace Matthews as commissioner, said the property in the panhandle is ripe for high-end residential development, but airport expansion could limit the amount of "executive housing" that may come into the area.