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McNEIL: In my lifetime, Briscoe matters

Faith, family, community and profession come to mind. I ran across this phrase in a middle school novel many years ago. Changes in my personal and professional life (divorce, remarriage, an aging parent, a husband with incurable cancer, retirement) caused me to ask myself, "In the course of a lifetime, what does it matter?"

Faith matters. I couldn't get through one second without God's help. Family matters. Links between generations hold this nation together. Profession matters. Mine was education. Love what you do, and do what you love.

I have purposely left out "community matters." Last fall I became aware of plans to add commercial passenger jet service with the expansion plans at Briscoe Field. I had to ask myself, "In the course of MY lifetime?"

After some research on airports similar to Briscoe, I learned that declining property values are worrisome. Noise issues came to the forefront. I knew there must be others in Gwinnett searching for information. I knew it would take time and energy to address this issue of quality of life. Did it matter enough for me to sacrifice my energy, time, and talent to oppose this issue? As I sat in the stillness, the answer was clear: In my lifetime, this matters.

The more important question became: Why does it matter? Studying the issue in depth, with hundreds of other opponents, the answer became clear. Gwinnettians live here because they hunger for a safe, peaceful way of life. Gwinnett County residents are proud of their county -- a high-tech, light industrial community offering a blended semi-rural setting and a quality school system. Industries have flocked to Gwinnett for the same reasons. Allowing commercial passenger service would jeopardize our unique way of life as a quality metro Atlanta community. Our exceptional community, including our students' learning, could be in jeopardy if commercialization comes to Briscoe.

The Board of Commissioners has spent months listening to facts presented by the opposition, yet it identifies these facts as "misinformation." Commissioners have chosen instead to listen to and heed the opinions of the movers and shakers who comprise only a fraction of this county and often do not even live in Gwinnett.

The FAA study published recently -- the Atlanta Metropolitan Aviation Capacity Study -- shows commercialization of Briscoe "not feasible" at this time. Some proponents claim that this study overstated the cost of commercialization -- $2.2 billion -- that Hartsfield is looking to keep its monopoly. However, the non-biased FAA paid for 70 percent of this study done by several top consultants in the U.S. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Metro Atlanta Chamber were involved in the work.

Several commissioners hadn't read the study as of a week ago. If they're looking for new facts, I can't fathom why they haven't read the AMACS. They have chosen instead to say they are "continuing to look for facts and not misinformation." How can it be they have decided to ignore the results of a non-biased study backed by valid research?

Commissioners, in light of the AMACS estimated cost to commercialize Briscoe, I am asking you to exercise constraint with our tax dollars. If for no other reasons, you must take the commercial aspect off of the table due to the risky financial commitment. You've said that this BOC wants to reinstate integrity, trust and a connection to the public. You have been presented with facts, not misinformation. The ball is in your court to do the right thing -- keep Briscoe a general aviation airport.

Gaye McNeil is a 30-year veteran teacher of Gwinnett County and Buford City Schools. She and her husband have lived in Lawrenceville since 1976. They live a half mile from Briscoe Field.