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Henry official wary of plans for Tara Field

By Michael Davis

Hampton-area resident William "Bill" Little says it likely won't get much louder around his house on Little Road, just north of Tara Field.

"It gets aggravating, naturally, when you have a bunch of noise," said the 77-year-old retiree who was born in Hampton and returned in 1983. But he's not too concerned with plans to expand the 4,500-foot runway at the small airport.

"It ain't going to make no more [noise] than what it is," he said. "It ain't going to be no louder."

But Clayton County officials' hopes to expand operations at the county's smaller airport in Henry County is meeting opposition from at least one of the area's local elected leaders.

Tara Field is owned and operated by the Clayton County government, though it sits inside unincorporated Henry County, just east of Clayton's pan-handle region. It is managed by Clayton-employed Henry County Commissioner Gerry Adams.

But Adams' fellow Henry County Commissioner, Elizabeth "BJ" Mathis, who represents the area including the airport, is concerned expansion of the asphalt runway will mean a busier airport, more noise and more high-impact industrial development in the mostly-rural area surrounding Tara Field and neighboring Atlanta Motor Speedway.

"I feel Clayton County should be having some discussions with us, knowing Henry County is going to the most impacted," she said. She would also like Clayton's expansion plans included in Henry County's comprehensive plan, a long-range planning document.

The Henry Board of Commissioners floated a resolution at its meeting Monday that would declare the board opposes a planned runway extension, but the item was never moved. Last year, Henry County was in negotiations to buy property around the area and leverage some control of it through a partnership with Clayton County, but those discussions, under previous administrations in both counties, did not bear fruit.

Clayton airport officials have been planning to expand the airport for some time. They say it has a potential to generate even more revenue. Clayton sells fuel from the airport, and rents hangar and tie-down space for private planes, jets and other aircraft.

Last month, parts of the airport, including a portion of the fixed operations base that housed aircraft for short stays, were decimated in storms that also heavily damaged the neighboring race track. Clayton Chairman Eldrin Bell, in interviews with the News Daily, has said he favored expanding the airport in order to generate more revenue. The county has been beset by a series of budget draining decisions out of its control recently, including a move by the state Legislature that would limit the amount of sales tax major airlines pay for jet fuel at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in northern Clayton.

"Right now, everybody's chasing their tales around trying to figure out if we're gong to put it back together or go with Chairman Bell's plan," said Clayton County Airport Authority member Frank Bailey. He said the county had planned to purchase about 60 acres near the airport, but a group affiliated with Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy recently closed the deal.

Bailey said the county has applied for expansion with the Federal Aviation Adminstration, but has not heard whether the plans can be moved forward. He said the Chick-fil-A group is likewise yet to share its plans with the Authority.

Staff writer Justin Boron contributed to this article.