County may sell airport

Photo by File Photo

Photo by File Photo

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Officials are considering selling or leasing the Gwinnett County Airport.

Commissioners are exploring turning over the government-owned Briscoe Field, located near Ga. Highway 316 north of Lawrenceville, after a private company asked to convert it to a private enterprise.

"The airport will be a huge asset toward driving our economic engine. ... It has the potential to be a game-changer," Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said, adding that its position on a potential biotech corridor and near Georgia Gwinnett College could be a huge draw for companies. "We owe it to the citizens to explore every opportunity, not only with the budget situation but for job creation and wealth creation."

Originally built in the 1960s, the 500-acre general aviation airport rivals several metro area airports as the third busiest in Georgia.

Despite a public outcry in the early 1990s when commissioners considered an expansion to allow commercial flights, Beaudreau said there is potential that the commercial flights could be considered again.

"It's a real special opportunity here," he said. "I think it's a great opportunity for the citizens, to be an economic engine for that whole area and unlock the potential."

Commissioners must decide in a public meeting if they want to apply to the Federal Aviation Administration under the Airport Privatization Pilot Program. Then, the FAA approval process includes a public comment and review period as well as a bidding process.

"It's an intriguing idea that could bring in much-needed revenue for the county," Chairman Charles Bannister said in a press release. "But before we can seriously talk to any potential buyers or lease holders, we must first thoroughly investigate and study the potential economic and environmental impacts."

The privatization program allows governments to consider the move to generate access to private capital for airport improvement and development. Up to five public airports could be chosen, and the airport owner or lease holder would be exempt from repaying federal grants.

"Nothing will be decided until all options have been carefully and publicly vetted. It will be important to obtain extensive community feedback," Bannister said. "The county has gotten other offers ... in the past. We want to make certain that the outcome of this offer is what's best for Gwinnett."