Airport officials must explain refusal to turn over expansion plans

Monday, October 25, 1999

After an eight-month struggle, Tennessean Allison Coats is close to getting some answers from her local airport on its plans for expansion.

A local judge recently ordered the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport Authority to explain its reasons for withholding details of the expansion plans for the airport. Chancellor Robert Corlew has set a hearing date on the matter for Nov. 5.

When Coats heard about the expansion plan last January, she was concerned about the possibility of noise pollution in her neighborhood. “I can jump into my car and it takes five minutes to get there. As a crow flies that's less than a mile. Basically since I live so close to the airport that's a grave concern of mine,” she said.

Smyrna Airport, a public facility, is mainly used by corporate jets and for jet maintenance and freight shipment. The airport is on 1,700 acres and has two runways.

The Wiggins Group, a British corporation holding many international airport properties, has arranged a 50-year lease with Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport. The company says the deal marks its first major move in the United States. Airport Director John Ellington said in a news release that the deal includes plans to build a major cargo hub that will import and export cargo from Europe and will provide passenger services for tourism packages. Ellington said the expansion deal should bring the airport $12 million in improvements and an fund an expansion of the current 1,300-foot runway to 8,000 feet. Airport officials say the current runway is too short to handle wide-body jets.

Coats and her group CARGO — Concerned Area Residents Get Organized — have been requesting information from the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport Authority about the expansion and how it would affect the citizens of Smyrna since March. “I've been trying to get everybody and their brother to go down there and request information,” Coats said.

Coats says the responses from the airport authority have been conflicting. “I have gotten numerous excuses. Some say the information we are asking for doesn't exist, and if it does they don't have it. (Then they say) it's confidential. They are claiming that it will be a big economy boost and there will be many jobs, but there has been conflicting information about how many flights there were going to be.”

“I'm just trying to find out what they are doing with this airport because I live here and it is going to affect me,” Coats said.

Calls made to Jim Cope, the attorney representing the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport, were not returned.