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GDOT begins study to determine city airport feasibility
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Nine days after the city of Dawsonville announced renewed interest in buying the Elliott Field airport and retaining it for public use, the Georgia Department of Transportation began a study to determine whether the airport is a viable option before the state makes a financial commitment.

On Feb. 15, members of the GDOT study team, including a consulting firm called Jviation out of Colorado, met with Dawsonville Mayor James Grogan and members of the city's consultant, Lead Edge Design, to inspect the airport.

The study is estimated to take six months.

If it provides evidence that the airport is viable, GDOT will be able to update their state system plan, which could in turn allow the airport be placed into the Federal Aviation Administration's National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems.

The city could then be eligible for federal funding via the FAA in a joint block grant with GDOT, which would allow the city to purchase the entire Elliott Field airport.

The city signed an Elliott Field airport acquisition agreement on Feb. 6, which states that the Elliott family is willing to donate a portion of the airport runway to the city.

As of press time, the Elliotts have yet to return the document signed.

The value of the donated portion of the runway is $1,950,308, a sum that was determined by a Jan. 6, 2015 appraisal by Airport Business Solutions for the city.

The remaining property consists of 587 acres and 2,120 feet of additional runway, which was valued around $17 million in 2015.

The funds from the FAA grant would go towards buying the 587 acres and additional runway and any necessary improvements.

Also according to the agreement, the Elliott family will continue to operate the airport until the acreage, purchase price and closing with the city is finalized. If the purchase price cannot be decided upon, the property will automatically revert back to the Elliotts, according to the city.

The city's plan to purchase the airport has been in the works for more than a decade.

In a letter to Dawsonville Mayor James Grogan dated March 4, 2016, Russell R. McMurry of the Georgia Department of Transportation stated that GDOT "has recognized the need for an airport in the Forsyth/Dawson County area for many years" and that the "need has been identified in [the] State Aviation System Plan.

"The possibility of converting the privately-owned Elliott Field to a public-use airport came to our attention approximately 10 years ago," McMurry wrote. "Since that time, we have had numerous discussions with the FAA, city and Elliott family members."

This is not the first time the city has actively attempted to acquire the airport.

In 2011, the City of Dawsonville voted to begin the process of creating a Dawsonville Airport Authority through local legislation.

Rep. Amos Amerson introduced legislation in the state House to create the authority, where it was approved 146-1.

Subsequent city hall meetings found hundreds of upset citizens asking that the authority not be created, and House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, along with Rep. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, had the legislation stalled in the Senate, citing a lack of transparency and communication from the city.

Without a vote there and a signature from the Governor, the authority was never created.
"All of the citizens of Dawson County deserve openness and transparency in government at each level," Ralston said at the time. "Unfortunately, that was not the case with this request for local legislation."

Once state approval was secured, the mayor and city council could then appoint five members on rotating terms.

Ralston said the bill would have "given power to the authority to buy and sell property, borrow money and exercise the power of eminent domain to condemn private property."
The agreement recently signed by the city and Elliott family states the city may assign its rights under the agreement "to any airport authority that it may create."

When asked on Monday if an authority was something the city still intended to do once their agreement to acquire the airport comes through, City Manager Bob Bolz said that as far as he knew, the city had no plans to go in that direction.

"That was before my time, back when Joe Lane Cox was mayor," Bolz said. "Why the city decided to go that route back then I don't know. Maybe they thought it would make the process easier."

The county's current representative, Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, said Monday that he was not informed of the agreement by the council before the vote taken on Feb. 6 and has not been approached about local legislation.

Grogan has insisted that if all goes well and the city obtains the airport through FAA and GDOT funds, the city wouldn't spend a dime on maintenance or bringing the airport up to safety standards.

The grant would cover the cost of improvements as well as the purchase price. Also according to FAA law, any municipal airport revenue must be put directly back into the airport itself.
The city would also be held responsible for the airport for the next 20 years.

"It is important to note, once the airport becomes public, it is an asset for the citizens of the City of Dawsonville and the surrounding area," McMurry also stated in the March 2016 letter. "The city must commit to operating the airport in a safe and efficient manner for at least 20 years each time a federal grant is provided for improvements."