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Possible Dawson County airport board riles residents
Dawsonville says it must create governing body to maintain local control
A large crowd expressed concerns about legislation that could create a Dawsonville Airport Authority at a public hearing Thursday night at Dawsonville City Hall. Those opposing the airport authority wore red shirts. - photo by FRANK REDDY

DAWSONVILLE — The number of residents concerned about the creation of a Dawsonville Airport Authority couldn’t fit in city hall Thursday night.

The crowd of at least 250 arrived at a public hearing to speak their piece on the city’s plans to acquire and operate the Elliott family’s airstrip in Dawson County’s north end. Only 100 could fit in the council chambers; 60 others listened to an audio feed in a spillover room next door; dozens waited outside city hall, turned away due to the building’s capacity.
Those in opposition sported red shirts.

As the meeting began, City Attorney Dana Miles spoke first. The city had pursued the matter “because the Elliott family had recently made known their desire to sell their existing airport facility,” he said.

“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.”

State representatives also attended. Sen. Steve Gooch, whose district includes Dawson County, 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 emails on this topic than everything else put together, so we know we’ve got a problem.”

The Thursday 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.”

A public meeting was held Feb. 16 by the city and subsequent notification was published Feb. 23 in the Dawson Community News. The airport authority bill passed through the House with a 146-1 vote.

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

Ralston said 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.”

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