Friday, June 26, 2009

Airport authority reverses its decision; pledges to answer community questions

Airport authority reverses its decision; pledges to answer community questions
Thursday, 25 June 2009
By D. Linsey Wisdom
News Editor

The airport authority will start answering the public’s questions about an expansion project in process despite earlier statements that the authority lacked the resources needed to respond.

Chairman Milles Gregory said on Wednesday that there was no set time in which people could expect answers, but answers were forthcoming.

“We are doing some research now. We have the environmental assessment, [EA] which is a very extensive report. We can answer most of the questions asked from that report,” Gregory said. “We don’t have any specific time frame to tell people.”

On June 11, The Macon County News reported that a letter sent by authority attorney Joe Collins stated that, “It is my opinion that neither Chairman Gregory nor any member of the Airport Authority are obligated to respond to your questionnaire, and I have advised them accordingly.”

Collins is out of the office this week and could not be reached for comment.

Gregory explained that the authority initially asked the public to submit questions in writing after the public submitted an overwhelming number of inquiries. He said he took the information to the attorney.

“Joe, as our attorney is doing a good job,” Gregory said. But, he said, Collins has only been on the job a short time and may not have been aware of the resources already available. Gregory said he stands by Collins’ initial decision, but on second examination he realized many of the questions could be answered from the EA.

“Joe was thinking about the time and resources it would take to conduct all of the research; he didn’t know it had already been done,” Gregory said.

Another reason for hesitation on answering questions was the threat of lawsuit from WildSouth.

In the meantime, the project is progressing smoothly with TRC Environmental completing its process of stripping and mapping the entire area affected by the planned expansion. Gregory said that portion of the project is slated for completion in late August.

When its work is done, TRC will compile all information in a book, including maps and pictures, which will then be distributed to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the Macon County Historical Society and the Macon County Library.

The process has already turned up interesting finds including the remains of a palisaded village which archaeologists previously had not known existed during this time period. After the researchers learn exactly what is at the site, it will be covered and remain intact in perpetuity.

“If we hadn’t begun this process, we’d never have known that stuff was there,” Gregory said. He said the compiled information would be used for educational purposes.

On request of the EBCI, there may be an opportunity for “public days” where the general public can come and view the site prior to completion. Cherokee representatives had earlier indicated they wanted the process shut down to the public, but has since requested the public days.

“I think it was the Cherokee Nation that did not want the process open, but since then the EBCI have approached us. I think they did something similar when they were building their school,” Gregory said.

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