LAWRENCEVILLE -- Brett Smith begged commissioners to release the plan.
Frustated over years of conjecture, statistics and studies with little ties to his hopes to add air travel to Lawrenceville's Briscoe Field, Smith railed over the injustice of people fighting a phantom idea.
Within hours of Tuesday's decision to reject the proposal from Smith's Propeller Airports -- a plan he spent three years and $2 million to bring forward -- the document was released to the public.
But many said the lengthy filing did little to change their concerns about quality of life, financial viability and taxpayer risk.
"I'm shocked," said Sabrina Smith, a Suwanee woman who became a government watchdog several years ago because of a tax increase. "This is a sales presentation. This is not a business plan."
While agreeing with neighbors and friends concerned about noise, property values and other quality of life issues, Smith and her allies with Citizens for Responsible Government have been sticklers for transparency and honesty in the process, which, she said, had been tainted from the beginning.
She wanted the documents released to the public earlier, but she said Wednesday it would likely have changed few opinions. Smith agreed with county officials -- who gave the proposal a score of 51 out of 100 -- that the document lacked details needed to allay fears.
"I don't see that it would have been a financial benefit for the citizens of Gwinnett County," she said.
The proposal, which touts Gwinnett as a great place to convert the airfield to a regional 10-gate commuter hub, with destinations such as Miami, Boston and New York, asks for a 50-year lease on the airport.
Propeller proposed $110 million in investments, including lengthening, widening and strengthening the runway, building a terminal to accommodate Boeing 737s and parking facilities. But the county or state would have to help with an unspecified need for road improvements, the document said, as well as police and fire services needed to qualify for commercial flights. Also, the terms seek to have ad valorem taxes waived for have all assets owned or controlled by Propeller. (Planes and hangars based at the airport but privately owned by others would continue to pay the taxes.)
In return, the proposal said the county would receive 5 percent of revenues -- a guaranteed minimum annual payment of $500,000 a year -- after the first three years, plus an unsubstantiated increase in sales and fuel taxes. The projection of the payments for the life of the lease was a minimum of $23.5 million.
Propeller proposed a potential economic impact of up to $1.8 billion and up to 20,000 jobs.
"The ironic thing is they released it a day too late," Smith said of Tuesday's release of the proposal. "The real losers in this is not us. It's the community."
Smith said the company is "weighing its options" for suing the county, saying the process was not fair.
"I'm not sure what good that does," he said of releasing the proposal after the decision was made. "Now people will see what they've lost."
Jimmy Norton, a former airport authority chairman who was a leader in pushing for commercial flights with Fly Gwinnett Forward, said the lack of details in the proposal did not trouble him.
Instead, he agreed with Smith that because the process was designed to allow officials to negotiate with its potential private partner, the document was a starting point.
"The citizens should've had a chance to look at it and decide for itself," he said. "Reading it stand-alone doesn't really tell all the story. ... There were questions that needed to be asked after the fact."
Smith said he should have been allowed to present the plan in front of commissioners or at least meet with county staff to discuss their questions.
Jim Regan of Citizens for a Better Gwinnett, who lead a dedicated group of hundreds of Lawrenceville and area residents who protested at commission meetings for months, said getting the chance to read the document Wednesday did little to change the debate.
"To me, it really confirms," he said, talking about the risk to taxpayers if the private partner failed, and the lack of support for the economic impact figures. Specifics on potential revenues were lacking, he added, which would make the proposal tough to judge.
"It was a very light, late proposal," he said. "I don't think this would have swayed anybody. ... The average person would see they didn't have any data ... to support it."