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Nash: Briscoe Does Not Need to Be Commercialized

Chairman meets with representatives from Lawrenceville and Dacula homeowners associations and citizens' groups.

Almost 40 people representing a dozen Gwinnett County neighborhoods, two citizens' groups and a local political organization met May 19 at the Apalachee Farms clubhouse in Dacula to discuss a pressing concern for area residents – the potential commercialization of Briscoe Field.

Charlotte Nash, chairman of the Gwinett County Board of Commissioners and a Dacula native, was also in attendance to provide additional insight into the increasingly contentious issue.

Last month, hundreds of residents gathered at 12Stone church to provide input at the behest of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners regarding a resolution proposed by District 4 Commissioner John Heard that would have removed commercial service from consideration at the Lawrenceville airport.

Despite public support for the resolution, District 3 Commissioner Mike Beaudreau proposed a substitute motion the following week to direct staff to issue a request for proposals (RFPs) for privatization, which could include commercialization. The motion passed by a 3-2 margin with Heard and Nash voting against the measure.

Though Nash opposed the measure, she told those in attendance Thursday night that she is not ready to rule out privatizing Briscoe.

“There’s the privatization issue, then there’s the idea of whether we would put commercial flights there,” Nash said. “As far as I’m concerned, the jury’s out on whether it makes sense to privatize it as a general aviation airport. There may actually be some opportunities there as long as we can keep control of what happens to the airport.”

However, when it comes to commercialization, Nash sees the issue as more clear-cut. Citing the small size of the airport, its location partially within the city limits of Lawrenceville and substantial development costs, Nash said she does not believe the airport is a suitable candidate for commercial service.

“We’ve got a constrained piece of property in terms of the size. It would take some pretty massive development costs and infrastructure improvements,” she said. “We’ve got 502 acres. I believe that is too small of a site on which to try to do commercial service and not have appropriate buffers for the folks that are most directly surrounding the airport."

A study released earlier this week found Lawrenceville’s Briscoe Field is not currently a feasible site for a second commercial service airport in the metro Atlanta area. The news was welcomed by those in attendance at Thursday night’s meeting who believe the study findings apply not only to the use of Briscoe as a relief airport for Hartsfield, but also as the .

While the study addresses some important issues, Nash said there are even more critical considerations related to the potential privatization or commercialization of Briscoe Field -- particularly the financial commitment required as a condition of participation in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) privatization program.

“There’s an absolute requirement that the county agree as part of that pre-application process that should the private operator that’s pulled in for the privatization process have difficulty keeping the airport operating -- they go bankrupt or get in financial trouble -- the county has to agree that they’re going to take over the responsibility for operating the airport,” she said.

To protect itself against that risk, the county could require the airport operator to post a performance or surety bond, but Nash is concerned even that may not completely mitigate the potential risks to the taxpayers.

“I suspect it would be very difficult for a private operator to get as good of a third party surety as we would need if we’re going to protect the county from potential financial problems on the part of the private operator,” she said. “No matter where you live in relationship to the airport, I think that’s something we have to be concerned about.”

Also in attendance Thursday night were Founding Fathers Tea Party chairman Steve Ramey, Citizens for a Better Gwinnett board member Jim Regan and Gwinnett Citizens for a Responsible Government chairwoman Sabrina Smith. All three expressed opposition to the commercialization of Briscoe Field.

Smith compared the current situation with the Lawrenceville airport to the battle over the trash plan and the Gwinnett Braves stadium.

“This is much bigger,” she said. “Every taxpayer in Gwinnett County, no matter how far away they are from the airport, will be on the hook.”

Nash emphasized the privatization process is a long and arduous one, but cautioned those in attendance not to assume the process will fail.

“The time is now to take commercialization off the table,” she said. “The more I dig into it, the more I see it as not just an issue for those closest to the airport.”

BJ Van Gundy May 24, 2011 at 01:20 PM
This column is SO full of either incorrect information, falsehood and/or spinning that I almost don't know where to start. But I'll try: "Despite public support for the resolution," - A meaningless phrase that suggests that there is somehow "majority public support" without saying it... However. In the same way that polls on websites are meaningless so is the turnout at an event. True legitimate gauging of "public support" is done through random polling... and THAT method has shown, twice, that the true MAJORITY "public support" falls on the side of privatizing AND commercializing the airport. While I consider Chairman Nash a very smart person (and a friend) I don't subscribe to the belief that she is somehow an expert on determining whether or not Briscoe is a "suitable candidate for commercial service". I would suggest that THAT should be left up to the experts that are willing to sink $150m of THEIR money into the project. I hardly believe that anyone would make that sort of investment if it was just so simple to make the statements that the Chairman is quoted here saying. Additionally, until the Commissioners actually see what is proposed by those that are looking to commercialize the airport, on what basis is she making such statements? Guessing?
BJ Van Gundy May 24, 2011 at 02:03 PM
Regarding the cited study released last week. Oh my. This is where this column completely twisted the information. First of all. The study was paid for by the City of Atlanta and Hartsfield administration - and I don't think it is a stretch to suggest that they wanted the study to say what it said as they simply don't want the competition. We see Delta's chief lobbyist attending these meetings in Gwinnett.... it is quite obvious that Delta is fighting the effort as well. The study stated that Briscoe was not suitable as a RELIEF airport for Hartsfield. It did NOT say that that it wasn't suitable for use as a small commercial airport. The fact that some 4o people at a meeting on Thursday night feel that the study also applies to the concept proposed by Propeller... is... well... irrelevant. Of course they "believe" this. It fits the rest of their belief system. But that doesn't make it so. The rest of the article above then goes into other conjecture by the Chairman. It is clear that it is conjecture. The phrases "I believe" and "I suspect" mean "I'm just guessing" or "I feel". The only way for there to be a factual discussion on this issue is when these touchy feely reactionary emotional guessing games stop and we begin to have a discussion that begins with "I know".
GregRodgers May 24, 2011 at 05:15 PM
First of all Mr. Van Gundy...lets tell the truth. The FAA paid for 70% of the Hartsfield report and not the City of Atlanta. Next, while I agree that the report states that Briscoe is not suitable for a Relief Airport...it does state that having commercial flights (737's) creates and airspace issue. Also it states that the cost to expand would displace residents and businesses to the tune of 2.2 billion dollars. Propellers estimates are 100 million? The numbers do not add up. As for polling, I believe the poll that you are referencing that stated a majority wanted the airport...was done by Propeller. I suspect if I polled business people given to you by the Chamber of Commerce I'd come up with a majority as well. The poll is conducted by Propeller is suspect at best. The Hartsfield study IS Huge. GDOT, the FAA, Georgia Aviation and many other were involved. This is not fluff. I think you, Propeller and the 3 board members are simply trying to by a report that is favorable to your interests. The Hartsfield study sums is up. Sorry but we in the area are not buying it....
Steve Rausch May 25, 2011 at 11:19 AM
Why aren't we having discussions about the increases traffic issues this airport project will cause? On both the ground, Hwy 316 is already gridlock, and in the airspace, where waits already exist to get into the system and this additional traffic will only increase wasted time for everyone. This idea grew from the worst panel of corrupt commissioners Gwinnett has ever seen, and it appears to me that 3 of the current commissioners are still standing at the trough. The public wants to actually have OUR interests represented, not just have our input ignored.
BJ Van Gundy May 25, 2011 at 02:52 PM
Mr. Rausch. To help put your mind at ease. The issues you raised ARE being discussed as they are valid issues that need to be resolved as well. Hope that helps you sleep. Regarding OUR interests and regardless of your accusation of nefarious intentions, OUR interests ARE being represented. While I grant to you that the Lawrenceville area immediately around the airport polls at about 50/50 as far as their support of Commercial Traffic (with the 50% that are against being well organized and noisy... as they should be in trying to get their position known)... the rest of the County, about 85% of it, polls HEAVILY in favor of commercialization. Heavily. So OUR interests, the 75% or so of the 85% and the 50% of the other 15% (or about 70% COUNTY WIDE) want Commercialzation of the airport.
BJ Van Gundy May 25, 2011 at 02:59 PM
Mr. Rodgers, thanks for clarifying my error. My bad. Regarding "airspace issues".... of course it does! If Delta requests adding 10 more flights a day to Harsfield it creates "airspace issues". Any additional node, ANYWHERE in this country would create "airspace issues". The $2.2B? A made up number. The polls (plural) that I cite were not done by Propeller but by polling companies (2 different ones) that are in that business professionally. Those polled were randomly chosen from voter lists your accusation of cherry picking of the respondents aside. Once again... as I stated in my response to Mr. Rausch, I understand the "we in the area are not buying it" for those of you that feel that this will impact you negatively. I just contend: 1) It won't cause the impact that is being sensationalized and 2) that this is an issue to be decided on a countywide basis. You likely disagree but I'm willing to be agreeable in my disagreement.
GregRodgers May 25, 2011 at 06:28 PM
Mr. Van Gundy... Thank you for letting me highlight your lie and spin. You said..." I just contend: 1) It won't cause the impact that is being sensationalized " Show me the crystal ball that you've taken a look at because I do not no of one single person who can predict the future. Please do not speak in absolute terms. Also, the polling....where are the results? I've heard that 85% of the people in Gwinnett are for this, however, without seeing I a report I simply do not believe it. Organized and Noisy...when someone yells...ALmost Everyone Wants this!!!...Your phrase could apply to your group as well. Again if its a propeller report, from companies hired by Propeller with folks picked from lists that I would guess are in heavily weighted areas of business then I would guess the results would be in your favor. If its so true, then folks should have been able to vote on this issue. If what you say is true I think those who oppose would accept it and move from the area. Most people I come in contact with.. where I work...think this is a ridiculous plot to cover up past mistakes. The BOC sold us out on other wild schemes that did not work and to make up from millions in losses they've come up with this. Spin....thats what Lobbyists like you do Mr. Van Gundy. You do for business while thumbing your nose at people for a fast buck. That's the Republican way.....
BJ Van Gundy May 26, 2011 at 12:19 AM
Alright. So much for being cordial. Thought you would return my respectful disagreement but you went to name calling. I won't lower myself to the same. It is fascinating to me that I said things like "My bad", admitting a mistake, and stating that I wished to be agreeable in my disagreement... but you went to namecalling anyway. For the record I am not a lobbyist. I was in a former position but have been in the management consulting business for over 6 years. I guess I could call you a liar... but as I said above... I won't lower myself to namecalling. Also. If you would have read what I wrote above, instead of deciding to jump in with namecalling you might have read that I said that the folks WERE NOT HAND PICKED FROM LISTS... did you not read that above. I'll say it again since you seem to skip sentences: The poll was done on RANDOM voters, EQUALLY disbursed throughout the county. I don't know where you heard that 85% were for this. Not from me. Go back once again and check my math but I believe that you will find that I said 70% countywide. I'd be perfectly happy for the county voters to vote on this issue. It would win overwhelmingly on a countywide ballot. I don't think that that would satisfy you though. You'd likely accuse me of spinning the election results.
BJ Van Gundy May 26, 2011 at 12:35 AM
I have no way to respond to the conspiracy theories put forward by your co-workers. What I do know is that ALL of the hearings and/or meetings held regarding the airport have been held IN THE IMMEDIATE AREA surrounding the airport. Due to this, it would be easy to have predicted (I know, here I go again with my crystal ball... I would submit I'd rather have a crystal ball than tinfoil hats) that the crowd attending would be VERY much opposed. Once again, I stated above that I understand this, given that 1) the meeting was in their own neighborhood and 2) issues that one is against or afraid of motivate folks more strongly to turn out. How about we do this: Have meetings around the county (in each of the 4 Commission Districts let's say) and allow only those that live in that district attend each of those meetings. I would submit that there would be 3 meetings that would show support for the commercialization and 1 that would be opposed. But I know. That would just be me spinning those people.
Voter Dodge May 27, 2011 at 07:07 PM
Mr. Van Gundy wrote: “The polls (plural) that I cite were not done by Propeller but by polling companies (2 different ones) that are in that business professionally. Those polled were randomly chosen from voter lists your accusation of cherry picking of the respondents aside.” You say that the polls were done by polling companies that are in that business professionally. Let’s do a poll here and ask the readers if they think this actual poll question that was used in the poll you cite sounds professional or biased: With the downturn in the national and local economy, many people are concerned that taxes will rise to balance budgets. But privatizing the airport and allowing commercial service from the airport would result in a major positive economic impact and create thousands of new jobs in Gwinnett. Homeowners and property taxpayers would benefit by bringing in new revenue to the county, possibly preventing future tax increases. Knowing this, would it make you more or less likely to support privatizing the airport, or would it make no difference to you? Mr. Van Gundy, you also say that the polls were not done by Propeller. No they weren’t, but they were paid for by Propeller. Haven’t airport supporters made the argument that the Hartsfield study was not fair because it was partially paid for by the City of Atlanta?
BJ Van Gundy May 27, 2011 at 07:53 PM
Mr. Voter Dodge (aka "Afraid to Use My Real Name): Yup! Also. Have you read the whole Hartsfield study or just the part that the reporters wrote about based upon the press release that was put out by ATL/Hartsfield? So. What you are saying is that explaining why it would be good to have the airport privatized in an honest way (which it was because it will do as stated) is not good? LOL

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