by Mel Griffith
The great Airport Debate that has been going on in Bradley County for over a quarter of a century seems to be heating up again. The newly born Cleveland Airport Authority wants to build a bigger airport either at the present location or a new one. Meanwhile, folks around the present airport have formed a committee to oppose any expansion there and there are petitions circulating to oppose the so-called "New Tasso" location. The basic problem is that an airport would benefit only a few dozen people while inconveniencing hundreds. The Airport Authority may have to face the possibility that there is just no longer a suitable site for an airport in Bradley County. It's a hilly area to start with and population growth may have already taken up all the suitable sites. It is likely that supporters of an airport could have found a suitable location a quarter of a century ago when there were far fewer subdivisions, except for their pig-headed determination to just seize some farms from folks who didn't want to sell and put an airport anywhere they pleased. That attitude earned them a bad reputation that won't be overcome any time soon.
Perhaps the Airport Authority should approach Polk County about a regional airport. The population is more sparse there, there is a good bit of fairly level land this side of the mountains, and a good highway leading there. Polk County's only airport is above the mountains, not much help to West Polk. Besides, there is no zoning there, and getting the right zoning in Bradley County may be a major obstacle. It would be appropriate for Bradley County planning commissioners or county commissioners to make up their minds about rezoning for an airport before hearing arguments from both sides, but an airport is in the same zoning classification as junkyards, so neither commission should vote to put an airport in any neighborhood where they would not vote to approve junkyards. The County Commission will have the final say about where, if anywhere, the city puts an airport. There is no place within the city or its growth boundary where one can be put. The city must have the County Commission's permission to condemn land for an airport, but even if willing sellers can be found, the land would still have to be rezoned, because there is no suitable tract already zoned for this use. Indeed, this may prove to be the first time that zoning could be very useful to the citizens. So far, it has mostly been a drag on the local economy by permitting neighborhood busybodies to prevent the start-up of small businesses, frequently for frivolous reasons.
There have been numerous claims over the years that lack of a bigger airport is impeding industrial growth in Bradley County, but upon examination, most seem to be based on a combination of wishful thinking and misinformation. Facts to support these claims seem to be scarce. Even if there is some truth to these claims, how many millions of dollars can Bradley County afford to spend in the hope of attracting another factory?
Most factories seem to be going to Mexico these days. Wonder if that's due to better airports?