Process begins anew on Gwinnett airport, advisory board formed

LAWRENCEVILLE -- It is out with the old and in with the new in the Gwinnett airport debate.

Commissioners voted Tuesday to reject qualifications submitted last year by three companies interested in buying or leasing Briscoe Field. The move does not disqualify the three from a privatization option, but instead opens the field to more candidates in an upcoming proposal process.

The move follows a recommendation of consultants with Infrastructure Management Group, who plan to have a draft request for proposals in the coming days. After months of controversy over one company's plan to add commercial flights at the Gwinnett County Airport, the consultants recommended the proposals focus on the privatization question, continuing the airport's general aviation functions. Commercialization could be considered in a section devoted to long-term vision.

"It's what I've wanted all along, that we look at the entire picture," said Commissioner Mike Beaudreau, one of three commissioners who has pushed for commercialization to remain as part of the debate.

Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, who campaigned earlier this year against allowing commercial flights, said beginning the process anew allows the current board to make its mark, since three of the five members are different than when the qualifications were submitted.

"This is more about, 'Let's try to do this in the right manner,' not about who won or lost," she said. "I think it is indicative of the will of this board."

Also Tuesday, commissioners approved giving IMG another $43,000 to work with the county and the Federal Aviation Administration through the proposal process. That makes about $190,000 spent of the $250,000 set aside for expert help on the issue, officials said.

And a promised citizen advisory committee was established.

While Commissioner Shirley Lasseter has not yet made her picks for the board, other commissioners named two people to the body, which will not only make recommendations on the proposals submitted in the coming weeks but will also study the future of the airport.

Four of the eight people named so far have worked to stop commercial flights: Steve Ramey, Gaye McNeill, Jim Regan and Lawrenceville Councilman Tony Powell. The others named are Woody Woodruff, Mary Jane Polizano, Gary Custar and Jeff Timler.

In addition to Lasseter's appointees, a final member will be named by the county's airport authority. The first meeting of the advisory board has not been set, but officials say it will be open to the public.