Commercial service at Briscoe Field will remain an option for now.
Last month, District 4 Commissioner John Heard proposed a resolution to remove commercial service from consideration at the Lawrenceville airport.
The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners in order to hold a public hearing for the purpose of gathering citizen input on the matter. in which opponents to commercial service far outnumbered those in support.
On May 3, before the commission voted on Heard’s resolution, District 3 Commissioner Mike Beaudreau proposed a substitute motion to direct staff to issue a request for proposals (RFPs) for privatization which could include commercialization. Beaudreau’s motion also called for the creation of an 11-member citizen review committee.
“The citizens have spoken and they would like a decision,” Beaudreau said. “This is the right thing to do for the citizens.”
Beaudreau said commissioners were elected to make the difficult decisions and needed to move forward with the RFPs for the benefit of the county. Last year, the county issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) from firms interested in submitting proposals to privatize the airport. American Airports Corporation, Gwinnett Airport, LLC and Propeller Investments submitted RFQs. The issuance of an RFP would be the next step in the process of privatizing the airport.
“There will be plenty of opportunity for public input,” Beaudreau added in an effort to address the concerns of those against commercialization of the airport.
Before introducing his substitute motion, Beaudreau said he did not want to place restrictions on the RFP.
“I don’t believe it is the wise thing to do to limit the scope of our RFP,” Beaudreau said. “I think this would not be something that will benefit the county moving forward so I strongly oppose this.”
District 1 Commissioner Shirley Lasseter also expressed a desire to see the RFP process go forward.
“I am not okay with making a decision that I don’t have the facts on,” Lasseter said referring to the fact that no RFP has been issued. “I don’t see where finding out the truth and the bottom line is going to hurt any of us. I think the only thing that can hurt us is not finding out the truth.”
According to District 2 Commissioner Lynette Howard, those who have contacted her support the commercialization and privatization of the airport by a 2-to-1 margin. Howard said her constituents, and even some Lawrenceville residents, have asked her to consider how the airport could benefit the county as a whole.
“We are not looking at doing something to the airport that is going to reduce the quality of life,” Howard said. “What we are trying to do is improve the quality of life around the airport and Gwinnett.”
Citing the potential impact on the heavily populated area around the airport, Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said she could not support the commercialization of Briscoe Field.
“As I’ve seen nothing that gives me assurance of the magnitude of economic development that might come as a result of this, I am opposed to commercialization at Briscoe Field,” she said.
Before the vote on Beaudreau’s substitute motion, Heard proposed an amendment that would have provided greater specificity for the composition of the citizen review committee, but did not address commercialization. The motion to amend failed 3-2 with Nash and Heard voting in favor to amend.
Beaudreau accused Heard of trying to “gut” the motion and called his motion simply a decision on whether to move forward on the RFP process.
Nash said she felt it was too early to issue RFPs saying the county needed additional information in order to structure the RFPs so that the best interests of the county were considered.
“My main concern is that we not issue RFPs until we have gone through due diligence studies,” Nash said.
During the discussion, Heard complained that he was not given a copy of Beaudreau’s motion until five minutes prior to the meeting and had no time to review it. While agreeing that a comprehensive RFP was needed, Heard maintained commercialization will cause economic harm to those around the airport and reiterated his opposition.
“I am bound by my oath of office to protect and do no harm to the citizens of this district,” Heard said.
Ultimately, Beaudreau’s substitute motion passed with Nash and Heard voting against. With its passage, Beaudreau’s motion then replaced Heard’s resolution as the voting item. The commission then voted to pass Beaudreau’s motion by a 3-2 margin, again with Nash and Heard voting against. The vote clears the way for RFPs to be issued.