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Gwinnett joins lawsuit against FAA

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Gwinnett County has joined an expanding lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration regarding the recent defunding of federal contract towers, and specifically, Briscoe Field.

In one of the more high-profile consequences of the federal government sequester budget cuts, Lawrenceville's Briscoe Field was among 149 control towers set to close. The county appealed the FAA's decision to close the tower as part of a nationwide effort to meet $637 million in cuts required under budget sequestration.

And on April 24, the county filed a motion to intervene in the case of Spokane Airport Board, Petitioner v. Michael P. Huerta and the FAA in the United States Court of Appeals for District of Columbia, the Ninth Circuit. That was filed on March 25. Huerta is the administrator of the FAA.

Along with Spokane, airports around the country, such as in Illinois and Florida, have also filed lawsuits against the FAA.

Gwinnett County Board Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said in a statement on Monday that Gwinnett seeks to join the lawsuit because its interests are aligned with Spokane's. But Nash also added that county officials would review last week's legislation approved by the House that would stop the furlough of air-traffic controllers, and how it would affect the federal contract tower program.

In a March 13 letter sent to Huerta and J. David Grizzle, chief operating officer of the FAA's Air Traffic Organization, Gwinnett County administrator Glenn Stephens stressed the economic impact that Briscoe Field has on the local and regional area and requested the FAA officials reconsider the discontinuation of funding.

"The loss of the tower due to the discontinuation of funding would significantly impact these operations and the economic output Briscoe Field provides not only locally but regionally as well," Stephens wrote, responding to a March 5 letter about Briscoe Field being on a list of airports that may lose funding.

Stephens wrote that Briscoe Field creates 730 jobs and an economic impact of more than $85 million. Because the Gwinnett County Police Aviation Unit and Civil Air Patrol both fly out of Briscoe, Stephens notes that the potential closure also raises safety issues.

The March 5 letter from the FAA said Briscoe Field fell below the criteria of a 150,000 total operations and 10,000 commercial operations.

The tower at Briscoe was originally scheduled to shut down on May 5, but was postponed until June 15.