Saturday, January 16, 2010

Briscoe Field: Preliminary Application to Privatize

Gwinnett County is beginning the process to study the idea of privatizing its airport in Lawrenceville. On Tuesday, Jan. 19, the Board of Commissioners will consider a resolution that will direct staff to submit a preliminary application to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) pursuant to the FAA’s Airport Privatization Pilot Program.

Congress authorized the pilot program in 1997 “to explore privatization as a means of generating access to… private capital for airport improvement and development.” Only five airports can qualify under the FAA’s Airport Privatization Pilot Program. Chosen airports would be exempt from repaying federal loans invested in their facilities.

On Thursday, officials issued a Request for Qualifications for a consultant to help prepare a preliminary application to the FAA. If the resolution is approved on Tuesday, the County will select a consultant next month and will submit a preliminary application to the FAA to express interest in the program. The preliminary application will identify the project objectives, describe the proposed process and timetables, and supply current financial and operations statements, but would not commit the County to proceed with a final application. The study process will help the board decide if privatization and eventual commercialization of Briscoe Field is in the best interest of Gwinnett County. The FAA must accept the preliminary application before the County can proceed with the process.

Board Chairman Charles Bannister said, “We are just beginning a lengthy procedure that will include a thorough public involvement process in addition to environmental and economic studies as we move forward. The final application would not be submitted for at least a year.”

District 1 Commissioner Shirley Lasseter said, “No matter the outcome of the vote on Tuesday, I am proud of my fellow board members for thinking outside the box and looking for new ways of providing needed services without negatively impacting taxpayers.”

“I will give careful consideration to the resolution on next week’s agenda because of the economic potential associated with privatization,” added District 2 Commissioner Bert Nasuti.

“While I think privatization of Briscoe Field could be the right choice for Gwinnett taxpayers and residents who travel, it is also clear there is a lot of due diligence to take before a final decision can be made,” said District 3 Commissioner Mike Beaudreau. “I am hopeful that commercialization of the airport would encourage more economic growth in our community.”

“The airport lies in my district, so it is important to me that the privatization study will include plenty of opportunities for public input,” said District 4 Commissioner Kevin Kenerly. “Briscoe Field must continue to be a good neighbor to my constituents.”

Briscoe Field has a 6,021-foot runway on 500 acres northeast of Lawrenceville. Improved in 1991, it can handle most corporate jets. Last summer, a private investment group approached the county with a privatization proposal that envisions as many as 10 commercial flights a day.
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