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Airport vote on agenda

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Leaders are poised to decide whether Gwinnett's Briscoe Field could be opened for commercial flights, although a vote scheduled for Tuesday is expected to be delayed.

Commissioner John Heard has written a resolution taking the controversial commercialization proposal off the table in the county's privatization studies on the airport.

It was placed on Tuesday's agenda, the first meeting where newly elected Chairwoman Charlotte Nash will preside.

But Heard, who has openly opposed commercialization since his campaign for office last year, said Nash has asked for a more public forum than Tuesday's 2 p.m. meeting. While the issue will be brought up, he said he agreed that the vote should wait for an evening forum, where more views could be expressed. A special meeting is likely to be set instead of including the issue in a regularly scheduled 7 p.m. April 26 public meeting.

"I expect it'll have a lot of people turn out for it," Heard said of the meeting, since the issue has filled the courthouse several times, including the first time it was considered in the 1990s. "I wanted to clear the air so we could move forward."

Heard said he supports the idea of turning the airport over to a private company but only one that would continue the general aviation service it currently operates.

"The airport, I think, needs a facelift ... to make Gwinnett the most business friendly county in the country," he said.

In 2010, Gwinnett County filed a "pre-application" to the Federal Aviation Administration for a grant program that would allow privatization without requiring the government to pay back FAA grants used over the years for upgrades to Briscoe Field.

In August, three companies submitted their qualifications to be considered for the project: Propeller Airports Briscoe Field Inc., American Airports and Gwinnett Airport LLC. Propeller has publicized a proposal to allow commercial flights.

But commissioners delayed moving forward on the issue until the November general election and March special election for chairman.

Groups have lined up on both sides of the issue, and the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce issued a call for members to come to Tuesday's commission meeting.

Heard said he wanted to give a chance for both sides to be heard. His resolution also calls for two additional public forums during the privatization process.