THE BARROW County Board of Commissioners are considering asking for a non-binding “straw vote” this July on whether or not to extend the runway at Northeast Georgia Regional Airport. Yet airport authority member Don Holliday told a crowd of concerned citizens last week that there isn’t any plan to extend the runway.
“We’ve not discussed runway extensions, we’ve not started any runway extensions,” said Holliday. So why, then, should there be a straw vote of citizens about a plan that Holliday claims doesn’t yet exist? It doesn’t make sense. Indeed, little about the ongoing debate over expanding the Barrow County airport adds up. That includes the idea of holding a “straw vote” in July. What is the goal of such a non-binding vote? Usually, local government straw votes are little more than political ploys, a way to divert attention away from the main issue. If the Barrow County Board of Commissioners really wants to see what the public thinks of airport development plans, then the BOC should put together an expansion proposal, tally the costs and put the issue before citizens in the form of a binding bond referendum. Let citizens have a real vote on whether or not to spend tax dollars for a proposed airport expansion. Despite Mr. Holliday’s assertion that there’s been no discussion of a runway expansion at the airport, that idea has indeed been discussed. In fact, it shows up on the Georgia DOT’s Airport Capital Improvement Program Report for the Northeast Georgia Regional Airport as a $5 million project in 2010 to expand the runway from 5,500’ to 6,500’. That report also outlines other wished-for improvements at the airport, including: $1 million in land acquisition in 2009 paid from local funds; $1.5 million in land acquisition in 2010 of which $1 million would come from local funds; $1 million in land acquisition in 2011 from local funds; another $1 million in land acquisition in 2012 from local funds, a new terminal at $4 million in local funds and a new airport fire station at $1 million from local funds. Of course, none of that is set in stone and apparently a wish list of projects. Still, it’s apparent there are plans to grow and expand the airport and that a runway expansion is among the items being discussed. Exactly what these expansion plans entail, however, is murky. Is the airport to be expanded simply to better handle small corporate jets for economic development, or is there something else behind these efforts? That isn’t clear because county leaders have done a poor job of discussing the matter. That lack of communication, among other things, has led to an erosion of public confidence and suspicions that airport expansion plans may be more grandiose, at least in the minds of some officials. Whatever those future growth plans entail, a non-binding straw vote isn’t the right way to clear the air. If citizens take the time to vote on an issue, the proposal should be clearly stated and the outcome should be binding on both the taxpayers and the government.