Welch and GAA work with Ford and Isbell to stop rendering plant

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By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

At its December 17 meeting, the Gadsden Airport Authority Board voted unanimously to reject the two proposals – one from Pilgrim’s Pride and the other from the Etowah Community group – for industrial development at the Northeast Alabama Reginal Airport.

According to GGA attorney Jim Williams, the vote rejected both the sale or lease of airport property to either entity.

“In light of this unanimous action, the GAA calls on the plaintiffs and the lawyers for the plaintiffs, to immediately dismiss all pending lawsuits that have been filed against the GAA,” said Williams in a press release. “There are no remaining issues for the courts to address and all issues regarding the proposed developments are now resolved.  As a result, there is nothing left for the courts to decide.

“The plaintiffs, and their lawyers, have called on the GAA to ‘reject the rendering’ plant for the past year. Today, in unanimous action, the authority did exactly that. The GAA strongly believes that it is time to end all legal actions. The authority remains committed to its mission, which is to see that the Gadsden Airport remains a valuable asset for the City of Gadsden and neighboring communities.”

The board’s motion read as follows:

“Be it resolved by the board of directors of Gadsden Airport Authority (the “Authority”), as follows:

  1. The Authority has found and determined and does hereby find, determine and declare as follows:
  2. a) The Authority rejects the proposal made by Etowah Community which is attached hereto as Exhibit A.
  3. b) The Authority rejects the proposal made by Pilgrim’s Pride Corp which is attached hereto as Exhibit B.
  4. The Chairman and the Secretary of the Authority, or any of them, are hereby authorized and directed to execute, deliver and file such related documents and agreements as may be necessary or desirable to carry out the provisions of this resolution. These Resolutions shall take effect immediately.”

Gadsden Airport Authority Board Chairman Jonathan Welch extended thanks to state representative Gil Isbell and former state representative Craig Ford for their assistance in resolving the months-long matter.

“Through this process there have been several loud voices driving the narrative,” said Welch. “In my opinion, this has created a climate that has delayed the ultimate vote and has cost the Gadsden Airport Authority significant time and money. However, there have been multiple individuals working towards a resolution in a civil and respectful way and I want to thank both Representative Gil Isbell and Craig Ford for that work.”

“I want to commend Representative Gil Isbell and Chairman Jonathan Welch for working with me on this resolution,” said Ford in a statement. “The authority did their due diligence and came to the conclusion this plant is not needed, especially at our coveted airport. Now let’s continue to work together and move Etowah county ahead together.”

In remarks prior to the vote, Welch read from a prepared statement as follows:

“In October 2020, at the same time as the general public, the Gadsden Airport Authority learned of a possible pet food ingredient processing facility being located on property owned by the Gadsden Airport Authority but unusable for aeronautical purposes. Prior to this, the Gadsden Airport Authority had been made aware that there was a potential industrial purchaser interested in property but no specifics were conveyed to the Gadsden Airport Authority. As with any proposed release of airport owned property, the Gadsden Airport Authority committed to following FAA rules and regulations throughout the process. The Gadsden Airport Authority has been, and will continue to be, committed to making decisions based upon the facts presented. In the year that followed this announcement, the Gadsden Airport Authority has attempted to gather facts and evaluate the proposal to determine if it would be an asset for the Gadsden Airport Authority. The Gadsden Airport Authority has done this in the face of baseless accusations of bribery, backroom deals and personal attacks. Let me say once again, these allegations are false and not one shred of proof of any such deal has been presented.

“This past summer, a group of citizens proposed to develop an adjoining parcel of the Gadsden Airport Authority property for a light industrial park. The Gadsden Airport Authority held public meetings to hear both proposals as well as receive community input. The evaluation process was obviously extended because of the two competing proposals. Unlike the Pilgrims Pride proposal, the proposed land to be released for the Citizen’s Business Park is largely usable for aviation purposes. Our consultants at Neal Schaffer prepared a detailed analysis of both projects and that will be made available to the public. In reviewing these two projects, it became clear that the Citizens Business Park would violate multiple FAA regulations and was simply not doable. I am hopeful that these same citizens will seek to develop that project at a location not subject to FAA regulations.

“It is unfortunate that this issue has become so divisive. While I have no doubt that many people feel legitimate concern over the project, the issue has morphed from opposition to a proposed industrial project into a political campaign. This project has never been more than a proposal. This project has never received the okay from the the Gadsden Airport Authority or any other entity and the tactics employed to fight this project have simply delayed the ultimate resolution as the Gadsden Airport Authority has been forced to litigate issues that it does not believe are ripe and has been prevented from even voting on the project.

“With that said, I believe the Gadsden Airport Authority now has all of the necessary information to make a decision on both proposals. This vote will be based on the facts of the two proposals and the evaluation of each proposal on its merits. The ultimate outcome is not influenced by the pending lawsuits or accusations made against the Gadsden Airport Authority and its members. We are basing this decision on the proposals themselves and the existing FAA regulations.

“Before voting, I want to make clear that the one positive to come from this is the interest generated in the airport. I have heard more about the incredible asset the airport is for our community than I have in the prior five years. This has come from not only individuals but also the county and neighboring municipalities. My hope is that you don’t forget the airport after we vote. I agree that we have a great asset in the airport, and I hope that the interest in the airport will translate to tangible support. I hope that each of you will continue to come to our monthly meetings.”

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