Residents call on county to drop Gwinnett airport plans

By Patrick Fox

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The nays had it Tuesday night as residents told Gwinnett County officials to ditch plans that could lead to commercial flights at Briscoe Field.

Chris Elvis, of Lawrenceville, holds a sign to boycott the possible expansion of Gwinnett Countyís Briscoe Field before the Public Hearing outside the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center in Lawrenceville on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010.

Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com Chris Elvis, of Lawrenceville, holds a sign to boycott the possible expansion of Gwinnett Countyís Briscoe Field before the Public Hearing outside the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center in Lawrenceville on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010.

Susan Murrah, of Lawrenceville, holds a sign to boycott the possible expansion of Gwinnett County's Briscoe Field during the Public Hearing at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center in Lawrenceville on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010.

Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com Susan Murrah, of Lawrenceville, holds a sign to boycott the possible expansion of Gwinnett County’s Briscoe Field during the Public Hearing at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center in Lawrenceville on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010.

Gwinnett Board of Commissioners Chairman Charles Bannister speaks to audience who mostly opposite the possible expansion.

Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com Gwinnett Board of Commissioners Chairman Charles Bannister speaks to audience who mostly opposite the possible expansion.

Bill Bostock, of Lawrenceville, speaks while hundreds opponents of a possible expansion of Gwinnett County's Briscoe Field

Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com Bill Bostock, of Lawrenceville, speaks while hundreds opponents of a possible expansion of Gwinnett County’s Briscoe Field

About 400 people stayed late at the county courthouse in Lawrenceville to tell county commissioners they do not want operations at the airport expanded. Most of those who spoke were from Lawrenceville, but others from Dacula, Buford and other parts of the county were represented. All spoke against commercialization of the airport.

“You’re not given us the comfort that you’re looking out for our best interest,” said Ray Rodden of Buford. He accused the commission of having “a deficit of credibility.”

Commission Chairman Charles Bannister assured the crowd, amid repeated interruptions, that the county was only in the early stages of the process, and that no decisions would be made without extensive public input.

But many were unconvinced.

“We don’t think it’s preliminary work and we want it stopped,” said Terry Sosebee of Dacula.

The Federal Aviation Administration approved Gwinnett County‘s preliminary application in May to sell or lease Briscoe Field to a private firm. The move could lead to commercial passenger service at an airport currently limited to small private planes and corporate jets.

Briscoe Field, the state’s fifth busiest airport, sits on 500 acres northeast of Lawrenceville. Its lone 6,021-foot runway accommodates small aircraft, the largest of which seats up to 19 people.

Three private firms have expressed interest in taking the airport off the county’s hands. One firm, Propeller Investments, has proposed building a new terminal with 10 gates and expanding the runway to allow as many as 20 commercial flights a day to Briscoe Field. The planes would be as large as Boeing 737s, which can accommodate 140 passengers.

Many hurdles remain, and county officials said they have not decided to privatize the airport. They said they plan to select a private partner by the end of this year, then study the impact of any specific plan on surrounding neighborhoods and the entire county.

Supporters of the idea, including the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, have said a small-scale commercial airport would provide a convenient alternative to Hartsfield-Jackson Airport to residents along the northern arc of metro Atlanta. It would also produce thousands of jobs in travel-related industries and help qualify Ga. 316 for transportation improvements, they argue.

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