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City acquires airport

POSTED: February 8, 2017 1:00 a.m.

The city council on Monday voted to acquire an airport owned and operated by the Elliotts, a prominent local family that includes NASCAR drivers Bill and Chase.

Officials said the purchase is dependent upon the city receiving funding from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Georgia Department of Transportation.

After an executive session to discuss land acquisition, Council Member Caleb Phillips made the motion to "accept the airport acquisition agreement between the city and the Elliott family with the land and airport being at no cost to the city."

The motion also authorized Dawsonville Mayor James Grogan to sign the agreement.
Council Member Angie Smith seconded the motion and it was approved unanimously, with members Mike Sosebee and Jason Power also voting in favor.

The Elliott family will continue to operate the privately-owned airport until the city receives money from a block grant with the Federal Aviation Administration and Georgia Department of Transportation, allowing them to finish the purchase.

Grogan said on Tuesday that he has a lot of confidence that the FAA will decide to spend the money now that the city owns the airport.

According to Grogan, 90 percent of the money will come from the FAA and five percent will come from the state. The other five percent is supposed to come from the city, but Grogan said that their portion would be paid for by a gift of land by the Elliotts.

Grogan did not disclose the amount for which the Elliotts were selling the airport.

The decision has come with no open discussion from the council, but according to Grogan the city has planned to purchase the land since the Elliott family first announced they wanted to sell it.

"We've been discussing this and batted it around for almost eight years now," Grogan said. "[The Elliotts] always said they wanted the city to own the airport and that hasn't changed."

Grogan said the council's main motive for the purchase is so that they can control the growth and development of the area.

"We felt like if we didn't do something to maintain the integrity and control what takes place there, any individual or group could buy it and do what they wanted with it. We wanted to protect the city of Dawsonville from anything disastrous happening."

Grogan said the council is excited and thinks owning the airport will benefit both the city and county.

"If people know that the airport is city owned they'll want to develop around it, because they know who controls it," Grogan said. "The economic development that will come because the airport is ours will benefit us. The county will also reap great rewards for taxes on any new planes or hangars."

Grogan said that any future plans are not set in stone, and a lot of the operations will be determined when the city gains control. Safety and who will man the airport are discussions for down the line, he said.

"We would hire a group that does airport administration and they would operate the airport," Grogan said. "We will make some improvements as we go along, but the airport has existed for a long time and nothing has ever happened. The Elliotts maintain liability and that won't change right now."

Grogan said that the agreement gives the city the runway, maintenance and storage hangars and fuel storage, and that a second portion of the purchase will come if the FAA money is received.

"If it all fell apart and we didn't get the FAA money, it would revert back to the Elliotts," Grogan said. "It changes nothing really, I guess for me, and the council too, it's anticlimactic, we knew it was what we wanted to do and it's finally all come together."

In 2011 the city attempted to create an airport authority with the intent to acquire and operate the Elliott airport. Though a bill to create the authority passed the house with a 146 to 1 vote, it was met with strong opposition by Dawsonville citizens and stalled.

Then-Mayor Joe Lane Cox said the city decided to let the issue lay.

"We'll leave it alone for a while," Cox said at the time.

Attempts to reach the FAA and the Department of Transportation were not successful as of press time.

 

 

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