Future of Gwinnett County’s airport an issue for Gwinnett to resolve, GDOT official says

By David Pendered

The proposed privatization of Gwinnett County’s airport is a local matter in which the state won’t intervene, according to the state official who oversees aviation for the state Department of Transportation.

Gwinnett residents and leaders have wrestled for years with the question of what to do with Briscoe Field, located along Ga. 316 about two miles northeast of Lawrenceville. At the heart of the issue is a debate over whether to allow commercial passenger service – and the impact that would have on neighborhoods near the airport.

GDOT on future of Briscoe Field

Carol Comer, a director with GDOT, with Wayne Hill, (left), a former private pilot and Gwinnett County's former chairman, and Emory Morsberger (right), executive director of the Stone Mountain Community Improvement District. Credit: David Pendered

Speaking Tuesday to the Rotary Club of Gwinnett County, Carol Comer said the state has no role in deciding or recommending the future of the airport. Comer directs GDOT’s Intermodal Division, which oversees systems including aviation, transit, rail, ports and waterways.

The future of Briscoe Field was uppermost on the minds of some in the audience. Before Comer spoke, the expectation among some was that Comer would outline the state’s position on Briscoe Field.

Just this month, only one firm submitted a proposal to the county’s request for privatizing the management of the airport. But that firm, Propeller Investments, has said previously that the deal made sense only if it could eventually establish commercial air service, according to a Feb. 9 report on WABE-FM.

Last summer, a study produced by Atlanta’s airport showed Briscoe Field was the region’s second-best option for locating a commercial airport.

Briscoe came in behind Dobbins Air Reserve Base, in Cobb County, but had fewer problems relating to air traffic control. Briscoe was more expensive to convert to commercial use — $2.2 billion as opposed to $1.4 billion at Dobbins, according to the Hartsfield study.

During Comer’s dialogue with the lunch crowd, the first question asked was whether GDOT had taken a position on the current proposal to privatize the airport.

“We’ve not taken a position,” Comer responded. “That’s not exactly what we’re charged to do. We are to provide assistance to the county, and provide information about the FAA’s privatization program.

“Privatization is a county issue,” Comer said. “It’s not an issue for us at the Department of Transportation.”

But economic impact is an issue for GDOT. And during her presentation Comer provided figures that show Briscoe Field ranks second in the state, in terms of economic impact, among the state’s public airports, excluding Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Here’s the breakdown of annual economic impact Comer provided:

  • McCollum Field (Cobb County)  –  $112.4 million
  • Briscoe Field  –  $85.4 million;
  • McKinnon Airport (St. Simons) – $20.7 million;
  • Vidalia Regional Airport – $6.1 million.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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