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MCNEIL: Airport committee deserved better treatment

I had decided to wait until the accusations subsided before writing this. However, it seems that a few people have decided to inflame this issue with unsubstantiated accusations for a long time to come. Therefore, I am led to write this column now.

Anyone who attended the Airport Privatization Review Committee meetings would know that we could not have come to consensus on the issue of commercialization. There were attempts on the part of the pro-expansion members to derail our task more than once, starting with the blindside resolution to dissolve this committee back in December of 2011. The pro-expansion members knew of the plan well in advance, and those of us who are against commercialization had no idea until we walked in the door of the Gwinnett DOT facility where the meetings were held that December day, and were given the resolution.

Several times pro-expansion members blocked discussion of pertinent information, factual information, by moving to stop discussion and move to the next issue on the agenda. They also referred to the Boyd report as biased, even though staff chose this group as the airline industry expert. Another expert was chosen by staff, Thomas Kinton, and he agreed with the bottom line of the Boyd report -- a commercialized Briscoe is not viable. Now it seems, led by Fly Gwinnett Forward and Propeller Investments, a few people are taking "shots" at us, even claiming that Delta Airlines wrote the Final Report/Recommendations and that we are on Delta's payroll.

I want you to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that when we planned the date of this April 30 meeting, no one had any idea a final report would be put forth. I am sure Commissioner Lynette Howard's feelings were hurt because this took place while she was out of town attending a government training session. This was out of our control. We did not resort to the politics to which Mike Beaudreau referred to. To make that insinuation is beyond insulting to this committee.

The report was sent out to all committee members around 10:30 a.m. on April 30. I don't know about others on the committee, but I checked and rechecked my emails every Monday until I left to attend our meetings, as I did last Monday. It is disturbing that others did not do the same.

What is truly bothering me is this: In October, when we got the list of appointees it was obvious that there were at least two or three well-known pro and two or three well-known opposition members on the committee. All members were appointed by the Board of Commissioners. Since October, committee members have not only sacrificed every Monday evening to meet, but have sacrificed literally hundreds of personal hours to gather information, interview experts/pilots/airport managers/write reports/generate power points. We did not arrive at our meetings on Monday, leave and do nothing until returning the next Monday. We were given a task which we took very seriously, and we were committed to seeing it through. Had we not been serious, we would not have, in our Minority Report last December, requested the BOC to reinstate this committee.

To have the very commission that appointed this committee attack us in the manner shown in the media is a blow below the belt. All that needed to be said was, "We thank the committee for their work. We will consider the final report in our decision" There was no reason to demean us or our work. In spite of all the negativity, Chairwoman Charlotte Nash and Commissioner John Heard took the high road and thanked the committee for its work and passion concerning this important issue.

Everything the BOC asked for and Commissioner Howard's specific requests are contained in the final report and recommendations. I personally took part in this amazing process because of the threat to our property and quality of life. In the process, I learned so much more -- about aircraft, runways, opening airports, fuel flowage, financial risks, airport management and the list could go on and on.

However, with the reaction from some BOC members shown in the media, it will be a long time before I ever get involved with any BOC process again. It is not worth the time this committee spent, mainly the sacrifices their families made (late dinners, not having mom or dad at the game, missed time with elderly parents, endless personal time on the computer, etc.) only to have our work diminished by Commissioners Howard and Beaudreau.

In closing, all I can say is that this report is a thing of beauty. It includes everything we ever discussed in our meetings, all of the expert testimony given, all of the reports presented, reasons for our findings, suggestions to improve the airport -- everything the BOC asked this committee to do has been done. We gave it our all, and we are satisfied with our product.

I make no apologies to any member of the board, to the public, to staff, or to any committee members. We have done due diligence. I wish the commissioners the greatest of wisdom and insight as they work on this major decision. I hold no grudges; however, I am disappointed in the reaction from some members of this board, and frankly, from the pro-commercialization members of this committee.

Gaye McNeil is a retired teacher who taught for more than 30 years. She and her husband Andrew have lived in Lawrenceville since 1975.

Comments

CD 2 years, 7 months ago

Very thoughtful, Gaye. Thank you for your work and truly for the work of everyone on the committee. The fact of the matter is that if any compelling reasons to support the project were put forward, those reasons would need to be addressed in the final product and would also need to survive the light of day. My hope is that the process closes the door on this dark chapter in Gwinnett--at least for another decade or so. A majority of the BOC hopefully will pay heed to the recommendation and the support for that recommendation.

Everyone: please plan to attend the meeting on 5/22 at GJAC to make your position known. Also, please consider a contribution to Citizens for a Better Gwinnett.

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ptm4936 2 years, 7 months ago

Surprising that the committee could claim their recommendations were in the best interests of all of Gwinnett when they hadn't reviewed the actual bid that was submitted. Without that information the criticism is richly deserved.

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SabrinaWorks247 2 years, 7 months ago

Gwinnett County purchasing policy would not allow any committee members to see the proposal.

I have yet to hear one supporter of commercial service explain why all Gwinnett taxpayers should be forced to pay to operate a commercial airport in the event of the failure of the private operator. Please keep in mind that this FAA program has a 0% success rate to date.

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notblind 2 years, 7 months ago

There are 2 groups at war over this issue.

One group wants to protect their quality of life, property values, etc.

The other group wants to make a lot of money.

There is no possible outcome that will make both sides happy. It would seem that the best solution is the one that creates a direct positive outcome for the largest number of people and conversely has a direct negative outcome for the fewest. My "direct positive outcome" group would be the property owners whose quality of life and property values would be severely impacted by more and bigger jets. Also included in this group would be every single taxpayer in the county. The "direct negative outcome" group would be the developers and speculators who would be denied another opportunity to feed from the public trough or otherwise experience a financial gain at the expense of the local citizenry.

Seems simple but the second group is relentless and remorseless in their pursuit of another buck.

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NewsReader 2 years, 7 months ago

Brett, Propeller Heads, and Fly Gwinnett into the Toilet all need to just go away. Their "ONLY" interest is in lining their pockets at our expense. In other words, you are not welcome here! Goodbye and good riddance!

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Katrina 2 years, 7 months ago

How many aviation industry experts have to say that this is a BAD idea? In addition, as was pointed out above, the committee members were never going to see the proposal. The committee members were appointed by the commissioners. Since three commissioners appear to be in favor, the citizens' committee vote should have been lopsided in FAVOR of privatization/commercialization. Apparently some members of the committee listened to the facts and decided that yes, it is a BAD idea to privatize/commercialize this airport. Bottom line, the citizens' committee had the votes to move ahead with the final report and recommendations.

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brownso 2 years, 7 months ago

Now we will see what the true character of the BOC will be. Who do they truly represent?

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jack 2 years, 7 months ago

We know of one who will represent whomever will help further their political career.

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BufordGuy 2 years, 7 months ago

Beaudreau will not vote in favor of this. He can read the polls. He knows doing so will be political suicide. He likes the money, but likes power more. Be interesting to see if the District 3 voters see through his scams like those of us up here failed to do with Kenerly.

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BufordToo 2 years, 7 months ago

Okay, now that the Citizens Committee has recommended "redevelopment and improvement" of Briscoe Field, who is going to foot the bill? The airport serves a very, very, small community of private pilots numbering perhaps less than 200. That's less 1/10 of 1% of the County's total population. Put another way, Briscoe is a very expensive private Country Club for these guys that's being paid for by the rest of us (and don't tell me the ad valorum plane tax or tax on gas covers the expense. Your Pipers and Cessna's are aging pieces of metal and you guys fly to Jackson County for cheap gas!).

My recommendation: Adopt a landing fee for all aircraft and makes this airport self-sufficient. Other cities do the same. Fly into Morristown, NJ, Caldwell, NJ, Philadelphia Northeast, or any other airport with significant activity, and you would find that those airports charge the pilot for the luxury of landing on their runway.

The Citizens Committee recommended 16 infrastructure initiatives in their report. Well, I say that this airport benefits "the few chosen ones" but does little for the rest of us. If you're asking the County to pay for it, then why not privatize the place and let that group sort out the economics.

And here's some math for consideration: 100,000 landings per year at $20.00/landing. That's $2.0 million in extra change to the County. Bigger planes, of course, would be charged more.

Bottomline. No more free ride for the pilots located at Briscoe! They want improvements, they pay for it.

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jack 2 years, 7 months ago

It is my understanding that Briscoe is already a moneymaker for the County. As Briscoe also receives funds fund from the Federal government, by law, any County profits can be used only for the airport itself- not for parks or recreation or the like.

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BufordToo 2 years, 7 months ago

Jack - If you spent thirty minutes reading through the Citizens Committee report (and wading through all the political speak, hyperbole and rhetoric), you'd find that there is no way the airport generates any where near the funds to "redevelop and re-vitalize" its infrastructure. Those pilots have been getting a free ride for far too long. Time to have them pay up! It'd be like you and the misses going over the Ryan's Steakhouse, going through the line and then asking the guy next to you to pay for your food. Enough of this use of public money for everything under the sun. And by the way, when do I get to use one of those Gwinnett County public cars that I see driving up in Hall County late at night for personal use! Must be nice to have the citizens furnish the gas too.

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Don 2 years, 7 months ago

Great article in the AJC about the small airports are struggling. Some have closed even so why should Briscoe succeed?

All the points add up to this is a bad idea to let commercial flights in.

I want to thank the airport committee for their hard work and time. Once again Beadreau apponts someone who does not follow his own agenda as he did on the trash plan. Now you do not hav eot worry about him speaking to you.

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BufordToo 2 years, 7 months ago

Don - All the more reason to privatize the airport and place the "risk" away from the County and direct it to the private sector. If the County is completely removed from any downside risk in the event of a default, the worst that could happen would be a completely re-developed airport with completely new facilities and no commercial air service all at the expense of the private operator. Conceptually, the idea of privatizing anything is probably hard for citizens of Gwinnett to get their arms around but these deals are typically structured as part equity (think: owners' cash) and equity (think: borrowing money from the private sector from BIG Banks or other lenders and NOT MUNICIPAL Bonds). The money and interest rate is calculated based upon the future cash flows of the business (airport is this case). The higher the risk, the higher the interest rate. If the County decides to move forward with privatization, they (the County and its attorneys) would have an indemnification clause written into the agreement so that in a worse case scenario, the citizens would NOT be left holding the bag on this one (unlike the Baseball stadium or the Gwinnett Arena). I know this sounds all like big business stuff, but it's really not and the County operates way beyond Mayberry RFD these days.

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R 2 years, 7 months ago

Buford - LETS be real, most citizens can understand the concept of privatization. You don’t get something for nothing regardless how hard we try. The chance of greater reward carries greater risk and in the end that is the taxing ability of the county.

Even if this long shot occurred, it wouldn't be a true PRIVITIZATION but a GLORIFIED Lease back. Probably why there’s no money in privatizing the general operations as they are today.

The county owns it, would STILL own it and is responsible to operate all improvements made if the “managing” partner goes away for ANY reason during the lease term. THERE is NO way to indemnity the county from FAA requirements to do so.

As a side note, the commissioners also tasked this group to review General Aviation operations and list anything of value that they uncovered. This is a lot like the mechanic giving a list of FUTURE recommended repairs – it doesn’t mean you’ll go out committed to EACH item on the list at all.

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SabrinaWorks247 2 years, 7 months ago

Will Propeller also indemnify the homeowners for the loss of their home value? Will the County and its attorneys make sure that the homes near the airport are insulated with soundproofing that Fly Gwinnett Forward assures us will increase home values? Will Propeller sign a personal guarantee that there will be "no impact on any individual school", as Wlibanks stated when interviewed by county staff about the proposal? Will Propeller agree to indemnify Lawrenceville and Dacula businesses to assure that they will suffer no losses, such as by fewer people sitting on outside patios at restaurants as 737s fly over? Remember that the FAA has said that despite what FGF and Propeller have said about the new, quiet aircraft, there are no restrictions allowed that only new, quiet aircraft can use Briscoe once it allows commercial flights. I do remember that FGF and Propeller have said that a few must sacrifice for the good of all Gwinnett. I am still waiting for an answer to the question prompted by the FGF website about what is an acceptable number of people to be exposed to unacceptable noise levels.

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Katrina 2 years, 7 months ago

Sabrina, Over the weekend I visited a friend who lives in an apartment in Greer, SC. The apartment is about four miles (as the crow flies) from Greenville-Spartanburg Airport. When a 737 flew over, it was low and LOUD. I think there are those here who think they live far enough out that they will not be affected by the noise from a commercialized Briscoe, but even at four miles, it's really, really loud.

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R 2 years, 7 months ago

One could infer that its less than the number of residents in Ms Hastings own neighborhood, but that may be unfair...

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Katrina 2 years, 7 months ago

Hi, At one of the citizens' committee meetings, Ms. Hastings referred to a privatized/commercialized Briscoe as a "boutique airport."

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SabrinaWorks247 2 years, 7 months ago

Hi Katrina:

You're right. All anyone has to do is drive down by Hartsfield and park a few miles from the airport. Then you can tell all of us how quiet the jets are going to be when they fly over Gwinnett.

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news2me 2 years, 7 months ago

When are you airport airheads going to realize that No means NO? How many times do you have to hear it before it sinks in? Stop with the Mayberry and NIMBY labels to try and ridicule the majority that disagrees with you. Gwinnett as a whole has been Mayberry for a long time. NIMBY doesn't just affect those people close to airport, NIMBY affects all of Gwinnett.

Small and regional airports are not surviving. Gwinnett does not need anymore failure, escpecially at this scale and at this time. No means NO. Accept it and move on!

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R 2 years, 7 months ago

Enhanced reply:

Please move on and make your national 15 minutes of fame appearance on "Fleecing America" in ANOTHER zip code.

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Katrina 2 years, 7 months ago

Amen! And everybody show up tonight, Tuesday, May 22, at 7 PM at the Board of Commissioners meeting!!!

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