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Opinion Letters Macon County Airport – A Disaster Waiting to Happen

The original planners who chose and pursued Iotla Valley as a location for an airport made a bad decision. Perhaps back then they did not foresee more than local crop-dusting planes utilizing the little country airport. The recent long fight over the expansion of the airport runway and negative impacts it would have on Macon citizens proved to be a "railroad job" by special interests and big money rather than the democratic will of the public. The public can rarely fight and win against the stacked cards of local politicians, government agencies and partnering corporations. The issues of public safety, public interest, and the compatibility of an elementary school 1,300 feet away from the runway were tossed into “File 13,” the waste basket.

No doubt the ill-placed and ever-growing airport will continue to be promoted by short-sighted and irresponsible special interests at the jeopardy of the surrounding homes and children in the new school. The airport was a safety issue then and a proven threat today.

All future tragedies will be observed from beginning to end by the children attending the new elementary school overlooking the airport less than a quarter of a mile from the runway. Hopefully, they will not be a part of a worse tragedy. The impacts from potential trauma in young children were not addressed by the Macon Airport Authority in the heated public discussions surrounding the runway expansion.

I participated and followed the airport expansion and as so many others, submitted extensive comments into the process in 2009. When I read the Environmental Assessment, I was appalled to find that WK Dickson & Company, FAA and or Macon Airport Authority cut every corner to save a buck in fulfilling their obligations to satisfy the law and the safety of Macon County residents. They refused to do a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS) and instead gave us an inadequate, bare minimum Environmental Assessment (EA). They even attempted and succeeded in cutting corners on that. I would like to quote from comments I submitted on the “cut and pasted” joke that they pawned on Macon County. The following abbreviation FONSI stands for “Finding of No Significant Impact” which, of course, was the grand conclusion to the fiasco. Had my attorney not quit, I would have pursued legal action even with little chance to win. Sometimes the purpose of being a little flea is to remind the dogs of what they are.

Excerpts from Macon County Airport Comments
3-10-2009 by Lamar Marshall

“Concerning the EA, I have other questions. It appears that the Macon County Airport (or W K Dickson & Co.) cut and pasted this EA together using their old or original 1991 data, updated SOME of it to 2002 and some FAA regulatory stuff to 2004. (How does the public adequately or intelligently comment on defunct information?).

Parts of the EA are out of date by eight years, others by three years. It is evident that the Macon County Airport authority is attempting to utilize old data in their EA and to neglect their obligation to spend the necessary funds to provide an accurate and current EA.

• Page A-1, ‘the year 2000 saw xxx number of….’(This should have been at least 8 years later info)

• Page A3, ‘according to the 1992 State Systems Plan of North Carolina…’

USFWS not notified until 4-4-09

The US Fish and Wildlife Service was not notified until March 4, 2009, AFTER the EA and FONSI were submitted to the state. According to conversations with USFWS, the data used in the EA is well out-of-date. New species have been found since the old surveys were done. The burden for complying with NEPA and generating accurate information to the public for comment lies with Macon Airport Authority, FAA and WK Dickson & Co. Every citizen has the right to accurate and up-to-date data and cannot make accurate comments without it.

Therefore, the NEPA process was flawed and any citizen attempting to comment on the EA was provided with inaccurate data on ETS species. We are asking that the process be started over and that a full EIS is performed.

Charts and information were produced in 1991 and updated in 2002. The data in Table A-3, page A-12 is out of date and does not make sense except in a historical context. We cannot make accurate and intelligent decisions and comments when we are using out of date data.

Another example is Table C-1 on page C-2 which provides Macon County population levels from 1991-2003. This data is seven years old. This pattern seems to pervade the entire EA.

Safety and economic benefits

Macon County Airport Authority is billing this expansion as a safety issue and economic benefit to Franklin and Macon County. The safety issue can be argued that expanding the Airport to bring in thousands of jets landing and taking off in a tiny valley surrounded by mountains and adjacent to a public grammar school is putting the communities and school at increased risk. Landing larger and more jets in Iotla would be unsafe.

Magnitude and significance and significant impacts underestimated in EA and FONSI

The magnitude and significance of the project was underestimated and the significant impacts to the environment, the cultural heritage, and impacts to the community were ignored or underestimated. The issues and the public controversy raised in the initial EA process should have led the planners into an EIS which would have addressed the issues that were not addressed in the EA. The Macon County Airport Authority failed to provide the public and the Eastern Band of Cherokees with an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

That “significant impacts” will occur to this site is without question. The site has been classified as a Section 4(f) property (DOT definition) which should automatically require an EIS (Environmental Impact Study) under NEPA. The proposed EA is insufficient to fulfill NEPA requirements.

The EA should have mandated an EIS rather than a FONSI

An EIS is required if the proposed action has the potential to “…significantly affect the quality of the human environment”. For an action to “affect” the environment, it must have a causal relationship with the environment: direct, indirect, or cumulative. An EIS is required to provide a full and fair discussion of environmental impacts of proposed alternatives. The EIS contains a full description of the proposed action, reasonable alternatives, and the probable environmental impacts that would avoid or minimize the adverse impacts of the proposed action.”

And finally, one of the many 2009 warnings:

“Every citizen in the Iotla Valley vicinity must be made aware of the potential threats to their homes and family farms. The expansion of the airway runway will set the stage for the implementation of “eminent domain” and forced selling of adjacent property as the airport brings in more jet traffic and larger planes. Airports never shrink in size, they only grow larger, louder and increase pollution in any community unlucky enough to have one. The quality of life for all nearby families is diminished in a multitude of ways. Private property values plunge because families don’t want to live near jet traffic. The noise is horrid, jet exhaust fumes not only stink but they are health hazards. Local creeks and rivers get all the runoff and pollution from fuels and chemicals. All of the public who breathes the air, wades Iotla Creek or fishes and swims in the Little Tennessee River will be impacted with poisons in the water emitted by the airport and unforeseen events like plane crashes. The quality of life will be ruined in Iotla Valley forever.”

Lamar Marshall — Cowee, NC


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