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Wednesday, 08 April 2009 15:44

All airport documents requested in lead up to runway lawsuit

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An environmental group out of Asheville plans to sue the Macon County Airport Authority and other parties involved in the proposed extension of the runway.

The group, Wild South, wants to stop the runway from being extended, saying the project is unnecessary, will harm the rural character of the Iotla Valley and endanger Cherokee artifacts and burial grounds, as well as other historic sites.

Lamar Marshall of Wild South said a 60-day notice to sue the Airport Authority will soon be filed. Afterwards, Wild South will seek an injunction to stop the project from moving forward, Wild South attorney Stephen Novak said.

Novak said he is unclear at the moment who will be named in the lawsuit.

The organization has also filed a federal Freedom of Information Act request and state public records request to obtain documents related to the proposed runway extension. The records request seeks documents from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in Washington, the Federal Aviation Administration, the N.C. Department of Transportation Division of Aviation, the state archaeologist, and the Macon County Airport Authority.

Novak said he hopes the public records will give Wild South a better idea of who should be named in the lawsuit.

The Airport Authority will comply with the records requests, said the board’s attorney Joe Collins.

“If it’s something they’re entitled to see, we’ll certainly give it to them,” Collins said.

Reviewing all the documents associated with the runway extension will give Wild South an understanding of “who said what to whom” in regards to the runway extension, Novak said.

Marshall with Wild South said the Airport Authority is “trying to brush us off,” but it won’t work.

“We’re taking them to court,” said Marshall. “We’re going to sue them.”

The hope is that “damning” information will be found through the public records requests, said Marshall.

The Airport Authority has “definitely not followed the letter of the law,” said Marshall.

Marshall asserts that the Airport Authority and other parties violated the National Historic Preservation Act by ignoring the archaeological significance of the airport site.

Marshall also charges that the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act were violated.

He claims that endangered species in Iotla Creek and the Little Tennessee River will be endangered by runoff from the airport.

An environmental assessment found that the runway extension would have “no significant impact” on the site. But Marshall said the environmental assessment was done without consulting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and based on out of date information.

Marshall said taxpayer money should be withdrawn from the proposed $3.5 million runway extension. The nation is facing an economic crisis, and there are better things to spend money on than extending an airport runway, said Marshall.

“Why dump money into this when it is only going to benefit rich people in Highlands?” Marshall asked.

Moreover, extending the airport runway is just laying the groundwork for more development to take place in the tranquil valley, said Marshall.

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