LAWRENCEVILLE — Members of Gwinnett’s airport privatization study committee said they can’t go forward without studies on the environmental and economic impact of expansion.
So they finished their work quickly, calling for the studies and voting to dissolve just two months after their work began.
The split vote caused jeers from members of the public hoping for a voice before commissioners in the 2-year-long debate on allowing passenger service at Briscoe Field.
While Terry Britt, a Gwinnett native and former chair of the Airport Authority, made the motion to present a final report to the commission and dissolve the committee, he said he would be “honored” to reconvene once environmental and economic reports are complete.
“We don’t have any other choice; this is all we have to offer,” Britt said, adding that the dissolution language simply echoed the resolution creating the recommending body. “I think this is as much as we can provide with the resources we’ve been given.”
All committee members agreed that environmental — which will determine noise impact as well as pollution issues — and economic studies should be done. In fact, a consultant already gave that recommendation to commissioners.
But Britt said the county needed the clear direction that the studies should be performed before a contract is signed, since proposals to privatize the airport are due in February.
The request for proposals, issued earlier this month, interfered in committee members’ attempts to contact previously interested parties to discuss potential upgrades to the airport, members said.
“We’ve come to a crossroads,” Nickie Summers said. “I don’t see it as slamming the door. I see it as standing up for a serious issue.”
But other committee members — four of whom voted against the proposals — and residents in attendance Tuesday said the dissolution hampered the ability of the community to speak out.
“(Commissioners) will find all kinds of reasons not to do what you and ... and now they have nobody here to hold their feet to the fire,” said Larry Yates. “You’ve let the citizens of this county down.”
Wayne Huff, who is a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association, said he did not want government money spent on more studies investigating commercialization.
“They are spending money to try to get rid of my airport,” he said. “This is just a disgrace.”
Tip Cape, a developer who has chaired the study group, said he has been “miffed” since meetings began in October, since the county did not allocate money for studies to the committee.
“I personally think the citizens of Gwinnett County will be benefitted by what we have done,” Cape said. “I thought it was very important to get something to the county before ... they got grandiose ideas (in the form of proposals). At least they will have professional information provided.”
Members pointed out that the board cannot dissolve itself, but as Britt’s proposed resolution is worded, it would become official if commissioners approve the resolution.
The recommendations outlined in the three-page report also include:
• Urging commissioners to pursue customs services at the airport regardless of privatization. The ability to approve items coming into America at the airport, officials said, would entice businesses to locate aircraft at Briscoe;
• Not pursuing privatization if the airport remains a general aviation operation. Members said the county staff has operated the airport efficiently and adding a private partner “would be cost prohibitive;”
• Environmental and economic impacts of commercial service should be completed and considered prior to the award of any contract with a private partner;
• If the county accepts a private partner, that company should have the responsibility of any upgrades to the facility, so no government money would be spent on it.