Commissioners will likely tackle privatization of the Gwinnett County Airport separately from the commercial flights proposal that has stirred the community.
Board members gave a nod to the recommendation of consultants Tuesday to seek proposals from companies interested in managing Briscoe Field continuing its current general aviation offerings. The respondents will have an opportunity to discuss commercial flights as a long-term option in their proposals.
“We are doing the first step,” Commissioner Lynette Howard said of the plan for moving forward. “It makes our airport as strong as possible for our community.”
Consultants Steve Steckler and Louis Wolinetz of Infrastructure Management Group said the process could bring the most proposals possible for a private partner to manage the airport.
With community confusion and outrage over a proposal from one company who wants to add passenger service to the small Lawrenceville runway, Steckler and Wolinetz said the recommended method simplifies the process and allows commissioners to look at both long and short-term goals for the airport.
Plus, they said, commissioners would still have the option of deciding later to apply to the Federal Aviation Administration to allow for commercial flights.
“We want as many proposals as possible because we want the best,” Howard said.
It was unclear if there would be a formal vote before the request for proposals are issued, but county staffers said they would likely have a recommendation next week for the formation of a citizens group proposed to give input into the plans.
Steckler and Wolinetz said the group could give input into the formulation of a stated goal in the request for proposals, such as to protect the county’s finances in privatization or to improve the quality of service at Briscoe Field,
Staffers said they are researching whether the task force could help evaluate bids, since both state law and a county ordinance govern how the procurement process works. Steckler said he has never heard of citizens being involved in that step.
Steckler and Wolinetz said a draft of the request could be available in the coming weeks, and, once a formal request is issued, companies would likely need six to eight weeks to respond. Steckler said he expected the county could receive as many as a dozen responses with a handful of viable options.
None of the commissioners objected to the proposed method, including Commissioner Shirley Lasseter who was ill and followed Tuesday’s meeting via teleconference.
“It was good to have the conversations and have a chance to ask questions,” said Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, adding that she wanted to think about the next steps.
The consultants answered a broad range of questions about issues such as control — which the county will retain in a limited fashion — and financial protections — which can be shored up in a public private agreement.
For many of the questions on commercial flights, Wolinetz said, the aviation market is the main determinate, and that market is very dependent on the economy.
From the Gwinnett Daily Post, September 21, 2011