Proposed drag strip near airport raises questions

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 14, 2004

NATCHEZ &045; Two automotive enthusiasts want to convert a closed runway at the Natchez airport to be used for car races and auto shows.

At a recent meeting of the Natchez-Adams County Airport Commission, David Wilson presented the plan he and his partner, David Cavin, hope to develop.

The automotive events, including drag races, would provide family-oriented evening activities for locals and would be good for the economy, drawing fans from miles around who would come as participants and spectators, Cavin said.

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The commission is interested but has taken no action, said Clint Pomeroy, airport manager.

&uot;The commission heard the proposal and made no commitment,&uot; Pomeroy said. &uot;We want to go look at a drag strip somewhere else. How loud is it? What would it look like?&uot;

Those are the questions residents in the airport area ask, as well, including resident

Rodney Holder. &uot;I’m not against drag racing, but I am against where they plan to put it,&uot; he said. &uot;Everybody is worried about the noise.&uot;

Susan Callon, another resident of the airport area, said she and her husband, Cane, also worry about the noise from a drag strip. &uot;It’s so peaceful out here. It’s like heaven,&uot; she said.

Callon and other residents and property owners have organized a meeting to be held at 6:30 p.m. today at the airport to discuss the project. Anyone is welcome to attend, she said.

Cavin said plans call for noise barriers to be built at the race track. &uot;It’ll be noisy on the track, but it’s a good mile from the houses out there,&uot; he said. &uot;They won’t be able to hear it inside their houses.&uot;

The developers’ plan calls for overlaying the runway at the southwest corner of the airport, Pomeroy said. Events would be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday and one evening during the week. &uot;It could produce some jobs, especially on the weekend with concessions and such,&uot; Pomeroy said. &uot;But we didn’t go looking for this.&uot;

The commission will look at how the developers will light the area, Pomeroy said. &uot;We couldn’t have any lights up on towers at night that would affect aircraft coming into the airport. The FAA would have that question, also. And we would have to look at smoke that might drift across the runway.&uot;

Many questions remain, Cavin agreed. However, he emphasized that no one should worry about the safety of the track.

&uot;This is a very enjoyable activity. It is very safe. There are strict rules and regulations in operating a track like this,&uot; he said. &uot;There is not much to do in Natchez at night, and we’re trying to give families something to do.&uot;

The events would begin at about 6 p.m. and could go on as late as midnight, Cavin said.

Jay Stewart, whose family owns property adjacent to the runway that would be used, opposes the project, saying the developers should find another site. &uot;It will be deafening for miles. The noise pollution will be unbelievable,&uot; Stewart said. &uot;I’m not opposed to development out there, but if you put this track in, you won’t get anyone to locate there and you won’t even able to hunt there.&uot;

Cavin said people will come to the track from as far away as Monroe, La., Baton Rouge and Brookhaven, which are some of the places where Natchez-area drag racing fans go to enjoy automotive events.

&uot;What we want to do is have what you call ‘test and tune’ on Friday, bracket racing on Saturday and street racing on Sunday,&uot; he said. &uot;Once we get it going, we hope to bring some big names in. It’s family oriented, and it will help the local economy.&uot;

The airport site, which would be leased by the developers, is the best choice for the project, Cavin said. But the partners know they may have to find an alternate site. &uot;It will cost a great deal of money to get it started, maybe $250,000, and we don’t have approval yet. The commission has to see whether it’s feasible.&uot;