Photo by Corinne Nicholson
LAWRENCEVILLE -- A week before a report was due to commissioners, the airport citizens review committee voted Monday against privatizing or commercializing the Gwinnett County airport.
The vote, spearheaded by members who have protested a proposal to add commercial flights at Briscoe Field, came with little prior knowledge to a portion of the board. That lead to a split vote on the majority of the measures -- with six members voting in favor and five abstaining.
"I came into this with an open mind, that if it made sense to the county, it was a good thing," said committee chairman Tip Cape, who broke the tie on all but one issue. "This document expresses the research and the effort we put forward. I believe we did the best for the citizens of this county."
In addition to recommending commissioners decide against using a private partner, which Gwinnett officials have debated for several years, the committee voted to fund improvements to the general aviation airfield to make it a "first-class" facility. Also, if commissioners do choose to move forward with privatization or commercialization, the board recommended a "full and exhaustive public review" of financial risks, financial burden to the public for infrastructure, environment impact on the community as well as wetlands and streams and safety concerns.
Tony Powell, a Lawrenceville councilman who served on the board, said the conclusions were based on a public outcry, lack of control over the flights and other issues.
But other members said the lack of notice about the issue was a "shame."
"I truly did think we had one more week on this committee," said Woody Woodruff, a retired airline pilot, in reference to the May 8 deadline given by commissioners. "I would have liked to have read it."
Another member, Mark Grams added: "It seems like this was ramrodded through the process with a behind-the-scenes meeting. It smacks of impropriety. I thought we were above that. I thought the county commissioners asked us to be above that."
But the majority of area residents who packed the meeting were relieved by the vote.
"We have been fighting for our lives out here," said Catherine Gilley. "We are taxpayers. We are homeowners."
But commissioners, who have been split, still have the final decision on the issue. A proposal, which has not been released to the public, has been submitted from Propeller Airports.
In the past, Propeller officials have said they want to open a small regional airport in Gwinnett.