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MURPHY: We need facts before airport decision

J.K. Murphy 

J.K. Murphy 

Last week, the county commissioners voted 3-2 to keep alive the possibility of regularly scheduled commercial flights in and out of the local airport.

Briscoe Field is the latest crossroads — or battleground — for Gwinnett County. What happens on those 500 acres in Lawrenceville will — for better or worse — shape Gwinnett’s future. Opposing sides agree on one point: there’s a lot at stake.

Here are some thoughts and ideas to help us navigate the great airport debate.

Let’s just get one thing straight. No one gives a hoot about the privatization of Briscoe Field. It’s the commercialization of the airport that has citizens up in arms. The two terms are mistakenly being used interchangeably. The airport could privatize tomorrow and there would be no hue and cry. Regularly scheduled commercial flight is the issue —not whether the government or a private concern operates the airport.

The commissioners should be applauded for calling for airport RFPs (Requests for Proposal) in last week’s vote. The key to making a sound decision is good information on which to base that decision. To this point, the only real information we have is that three different groups are interested to privatize the airport, and at least one of these would pursue commercial flights. That’s it. That’s all we know. Everything else is conjecture.

So we can guess at flight paths, takeoff frequencies, types of aircraft, etc., but until we can examine the proposals, we’re shooting in the dark. Without seeing the proposals, it’s impossible to intelligently discuss the detriments and benefits commercial flight would bring. That’s the only way we can have the intelligent discourse the issue deserves.

One of the loudest complaints from those living near the airport is the noise of commercial jets. A year ago, I suggested flying a jet over Lawrenceville a few times to emulate takeoffs and landings. Instead of imagining what it will be like, residents could actually experience the sound and feel of an overhead jet firsthand. The exercise would provide more information to help the decision-making process.

The Citizens for a Better Gwinnett, an anti-commercialization group primarily made up of folks who live within earshot of arriving and departing planes, has been very vocal and organized.

The pro-commercialization group Fly Gwinnett Forward lists many of the benefits an airport would bring. FGF, too, has been very visible, holding press conferences and marketing their cause.

But how does the rest of Gwinnett County feel? The best way to find out is to ask them. A comprehensive, impartial poll would give us a better idea of how all of Gwinnett County feels about adding commercial flights to Briscoe. If I were among the decision-making body, I certainly would like to have that piece of information before casting my vote.

Let’s think about what makes Gwinnett stand out in metro Atlanta. And recall that not everyone jumped on the bandwagon as new facilities were built here. The malls, the convention center, the arena, the colleges, the ballpark are just some of the amenities that other metro counties envy. Yet, these facilities had their vocal detractors. But think about the county without these improvements that bring convenience and comfort to Gwinnett. Without them, we’d be just another metro Atlanta county dependent on the city of Atlanta for shopping, entertainment, education, etc.

The ability for travelers to take flight without driving to Hartsfield would be another feather in Gwinnett’s cap. But the impact on the community must be considered. We won’t know until we see the plans laid out before us.

J.K. Murphy is the publisher of the Gwinnett Daily Post. Email him at jk.murphy@gwinnettdailypost.com. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/jkmurphy.