200 protest proposed Gwinnett airport expansion
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
9:03 p.m. Thursday, June 24, 2010
About 200 people rallied against a possible expansion of Gwinnett County’s Briscoe Field on Thursday night in Lawrenceville.
They signed petitions, applauded a few speeches and expressed concern that bringing commercial flights to the airport would increase noise and traffic in their neighborhoods and jeopardize their quality of life.
“If I wanted to live in Atlanta I’d live in Atlanta,” said Diane Butler of Lawrenceville.
The turnout was less than the 500 to 1,000 organizers hoped for. But the rally was the latest sign of opposition — at least in Lawrenceville — to bringing commercial passenger service to Briscoe Field.
Last month the Federal Aviation Administration approved Gwinnett County’s preliminary application for a program that would allow the county to sell or lease Briscoe Field to a private firm. That could lead to commercial passenger service at an airport currently limited to small private planes and corporate jets.
Many hurdles remain, and county officials said they have not decided to privatize the airport. They planned to pick 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 said privatizing and expanding Briscoe Field would:
- Provide a convenient alternative to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for some commercial passengers.
- Allow the county to find other uses for the $1 million it spends each year on Briscoe Field.
- Create thousands of jobs in travel-related industries and aid the county’s larger economic development goals.
Such arguments didn’t sway those who attended Thursday’s rally. They worried about traffic congestion, commercial jet noise and the safety of their neighborhoods.
“Right now I’ve got a plane coming through my kitchen window and going out my bedroom window,” said Lawrenceville Mayor Rex Millsaps, who lives near the airport. “I don’t need them getting any bigger, or they’re going to take something with them.”
Not everyone who came to the rally opposed expanding the airport. Jim Reagan of Lawrenceville drew catcalls when he talked about the jobs an expansion could bring.
“You have the choice of moving,” Reagan told concerned residents.
“You want to buy my house?”someone retorted.
Residents’ concerns have gained the attention of politicians in Lawrenceville. The City Council next month is expected to approve a resolution opposing privatization of Briscoe Field.
Gwinnett County officials have said the objections are premature. They said it could be years before the airport expands, if it happens at all.
A timeline the county submitted to the FAA indicates public hearings would begin in January, but the county may seek public input sooner.
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