Photo by Corinne Nicholson
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Former Gwinnett Commission Chairman Wayne Hill voted against commercial flights at the local airport 15 years ago, and he would vote no again, if he were still in office.
Hill, a member of the original airport authority in 1971 when the county opened its airfield, shared his opinion Monday on the controversial proposal to add scheduled flights during a meeting of a citizens task force studying the idea.
"My feelings haven't changed since 1971," Hill, a pilot, said. "Our thought was you had to have a good general aviation airport to support your businesses."
Called upon as an expert in the history of the airport, Hill talked about decisions to extend the runway to 6,000 feet and, when he was serving as commission chairman, to add a control tower.
Growth, he said, tracked an early study to show the tiny airfield would expand to 400 aircraft by 2000.
But Hill said calls to privatize and possibly commercialize the airport do not make sense.
"We felt like we had a good thing going, and we could manage it," Hill said of studying privatization while he was in office. "I would be very interested in putting money in it and making it the best it could be."
While proponents of scheduled service said general aviation operations could continue with little interference, Hill said he avoids commercial airports when he flies his own small six-seater plane and believes the two aren't compatible.
He added that he would enjoy taking a commercial flight from Lawrenceville to New York, if the proposed service was added.
But, instead, he thinks that commissioners should pay more attention to driving up the corporate business, rectifying a problem that has Fortune 500 company NCR based in Gwinnett but its planes based in Cobb.
"I think you've got a jewel. You've got an opportunity to have a great place here," he said, adding that old hangars should be rebuilt to upgrade the facilities but acknowledging that a down economy could prevent action for years.
To that end, Lawrenceville Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson said city leaders have scheduled meetings with county officials to discuss if the city could play a role in improving the aesthetics of the field. The city has threatened a lawsuit if the county moves forward with the commercial plans but would take part in upgrades to the general aviation operations.
Also at Monday's task force meeting, Lawrenceville resident Jeremy Stephens presented the group with findings from a master's degree thesis study, completed to obtain a master's of science in management degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Stephens said his statistical analysis showed an economic impact of $1.6 billion to $2.3 billion by the scheduled service pans, as well as between 17,000 and 27,000 new jobs.
He also found, through a study of neighborhoods surrounding similar airports, homes were valued at $60,000 higher than here, instead of the decrease in property values argued by opponents of the plans.