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Airport talk stirs ire
Authority in holding pattern
airport pic 1
A large crowd arrived at city hall Thursday night to express their concerns about legislation that could create a Dawsonville Airport Authority. The opposition wore red shirts. - photo by Frank Reddy Dawson Community News

Residents concerned about the creation of a Dawsonville Airport Authority thronged Thursday night's public hearing at city hall.


The crowd of at least 250 arrived to speak their piece on the city's plans to acquire and operate the Elliott Family's airstrip in the county's north end.


Those in opposition sported red shirts.


Prior to public input, City Attorney Dana Miles addressed the group as the council's spokesperson.


He said the city had pursued the matter "because the Elliott Family had recently made known their desire to sell their existing airport facility.


"The airport could be sold to a private individual or a company from out of state or even out of the country, and there would be no local control," Miles said. "The only way to maintain local control was via an airport authority."


Dawson County resident Gary Diamond felt otherwise.


"The establishment of an airport authority is the point of no return," Diamond said. "The state legislature needs to kill this bill."


Dawson County resident Dick Scharf had similar sentiments.


"There are far too many unanswered and unverifiable questions to go further with this without really good due diligence," Scharf said.


Dawson County resident Tracey Phillips, however, felt the authority would be "the first step of many to try and get some control on [the airport]."


"If it sells to somebody else, it could become anything...from a freight hub to a terminal for commuter flights. Basically, anybody who wants to make a buck off it."


Phillips, Diamond and Scharf were joined by many both in opposition and in support of the airport authority.


Only about 100 of them could fit in the council chambers, and about 60 others waited and listened to an audio feed in a spill-over room next door. A group of dozens waited outside city hall--turned away due to the building's capacity.


State Sen. Steve Gooch, whose district includes Dawson County, showed up to speak.


He was accompanied by Rep. Rick Jasperse, whose district includes neighboring Pickens County.


"We wanted to hear what you all had to say," Gooch said. "And we wanted to hear what the city had to say.


"Out of everything we've tackled this year, I've gotten more e-mails on this topic than everything else put together, so we know we've got a problem."


The March 31 public hearing was scheduled, Miles said, "in order to get the facts out, clear up any misunderstandings and give the public another opportunity to voice their support, opposition or concerns to the city."


The process for creating the authority, Miles said, included a public meeting--held Feb. 16--by the city and subsequent notification--Feb. 23--in the Dawson Community News.


The airport authority bill passed through the House with a 146 to 1 vote.


It was put in a holding pattern, however, following a March 14 statement released by legislators--including House Speaker David Ralston--to stall Senate approval.


Ralston stated that he and fellow lawmakers had "reach[ed] a joint decision to halt legislation to create the Dawsonville Airport Authority (HB 453) for at least the rest of the year.


"All of the citizens of Dawson County deserve openness and transparency in government at each level," Ralston continued. "Unfortunately, that was not the case with this request for local legislation."


A "public notice of called meeting" was published in the Feb. 16 edition of the Dawson Community News.


The meeting was held at 5 p.m. Feb. 16 in city hall.


The legal notice that ran in the newspaper stated that the city council planned to meet in order to "convene a called meeting with an executive session."


The purpose of the meeting, it stated, was "real estate acquisition."


According to state law, executive, or closed, session may be used to discuss personnel matters, pending litigation and land acquisition.


The first 45 minutes of the Feb. 16 meeting were held in executive session, while the final 10 minutes were held in open session.


Miles said both items pertained to real estate acquisition.


"One related to acquiring a downtown parking area and one related to acquiring an existing airport."


Other than city officials, a reporter from Dawson Community News was the only person at the Feb. 16 meeting.


The notice of intent to introduce local legislation was published in DCN on Feb. 23.


Following Thursday night's meeting it was unclear what the next steps would be.