Artist rendering of the potential privatized Briscoe Field. Artwork provided by whyprivatizebriscoe.com.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- An airport citizens review committee said no to commercial flights at the Gwinnett County Airport this week, giving a recommendation to commissioners that could soon end years of debate.
Commissioners Tuesday began reviewing the initial report, which came in a surprise vote Monday, angering some committee members who did not have a chance to read it before the vote. That lead to a split vote on the majority of the measures -- with six members voting in favor and five abstaining.
Commissioner Lynette Howard, who was serving as a liaison to the committee after a controversial abrupt decision late last year, said she was "disappointed" in Monday's unexpected ending to the discussions, which came in a meeting scheduled when she had to be in a government training session in Savannah.
"I would have liked to have a unanimous vote. I think they could have," she said, adding that some information she asked for was not included in the document voted on Monday, but it may be added to the final document.
During Monday's session, many committee members asked for time to consider the recommendations, which were submitted via email to some just prior to the vote.
"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."
But others said the research of the past few months showed commercial flights were not a viable option at the Lawrenceville general aviation field.
"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, the committee voted to fund improvements to the general aviation functions 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, environmental 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.
Another member, Mark Grams, said forcing a vote without time to deliberate was not fair.
"It seems like this was ramrodded through the process with a behind-the-scenes meeting," he said. It smacks of impropriety. I thought we were above that. I thought the county commissioners asked us to be above that."
Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said he did not like to hear that committee members were "just as guilty" of political tactics they complained of last year. But he said he had begun to review the report.
"I think we're coming close to a conclusion on" whether to move forward, he said, adding of the report, "it's got to be taken into consideration."
County officials have the final decision on the issue, as a proposal has been submitted from Propeller Airports.
Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash and Commissioner John Heard said they did not know when the decision would be made. Both have been against allowing scheduled passenger service at the airport and said they looked forward to reviewing the report.
"I'm happy to see things moving forward," Heard said.
A message left for Commissioner Shirley Lasseter, who has not attended commission meetings in months due to illness, was not returned Tuesday.
Brett Smith, managing director of Propeller Investments said the rush ended with an inaccurate report.
"If the committee wants its work and report to be taken seriously by the elected officials and the citizens of Gwinnett County, it should at least allow for serious deliberation and analysis by its members," he said. "When thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of sorely needed economic development activity are at stake, you'd think it would warrant giving their own committee members time to actually read the report, or consider the information we presented to them in December."
But the committee's verdict has meant a lot to concerned area residents, who have packed meetings for the past few months.
"We have been fighting for our lives out here," said Catherine Gilley. "We are taxpayers. We are homeowners."