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Permit Delays Stop Airport Tree Removal



A grove of trees that presents a hazard to pilots landing at the Fulton County Airport will stand for at least one more summer.

For nearly four years, Fulton County Commissioners have been caught in a paperwork tussle between the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency. The FAA wants the trees down to improve safety for pilots and passengers.

The EPA has put one roadblock in front of another to keep the trees in place.

The trees have been a problem for decades. For pilots landing from the east to the west on the airport’s eastwest runway, wind blowing through the trees can become turbulent, making it difficult to control an aircraft.

The trees were implicated in a May 11, 2003 crash that killed three persons.

Latest Snag

Joe Short, Fulton County commissioner, said after three years, the EPA issued a permit that would allow the trees to be removed.

However, the stand of trees is a possible nesting area for the Indiana brown bat, an endangered species. Because the bat may be nesting in the trees from April until October, the EPA will allow the trees to be removed only between Oct. 1 and April 1.

Short said there were some details in the EPA permit that needed to be changed. Once the final changes were approved, the landowners, Charles and Vicki Cline, were notified that they could hire a contractor to remove the trees.

Short said the contractor said he could not get bids from subcontractors in time to have the trees down by April 1. Because the EPA prohibits removing the trees until Oct. 1, the trees can’t be removed until then.

Issues

EPA officials determined the woods are wetlands. Short said the commissioners mitigated the wetlands issue by setting aside other acreage as wetlands and providing funds for other wetland mitigation.

“They (the EPA) wanted another wetlands at the airport,” Short said.

The county also had to conduct an archeological study of the area. The process involved digging holes throughout the woods, looking for artifacts. None were found.

The bat issue was resolved by proving there are other woods within a reasonable distance that could provide a habitat for the bats.

Removing the trees “has proven to be quite a challenge,” Short said.



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