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State patrol choppers may sit down here
Gainesville council to vote on lease to house helicopters at airport
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The Georgia State Patrol’s aviation division may have a semipermanent home in Gainesville, pending a vote Tuesday by the City Council.

The council will enter into a five-year lease agreement with the state agency, giving the state patrol a hangar at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport.

The hangar will house two helicopters used to assist local emergency responders in a 28-county area.

Previously, the helicopters were housed in Athens.

But for the last few months, the agency has been operating out of the Gainesville airport, working on a month-to-month lease with the city until a more permanent agreement could be reached.

Once the council approves the lease, the board for Georgia’s Department of Public Safety will also have to vote to confirm the new deal.

The council will also vote to allow city staff to spend some $134,800 from the airport budget to hire a Buford company to renovate 1,700 square feet of office space in the hangar, tailoring it for state patrol operations.

The state patrol will, in turn, reimburse the city for the construction costs through rental payments.

Gainesville Fire Chief Jon Canada also serves on the state board that will give final approval.

He said the state agency’s interest in the Gainesville airport had to do with location. The office serves 28 counties in Northeast Georgia; the Gainesville airport was in a more central location to serve all those counties and closer to where the majority of the office’s calls came from, Canada said.

Locally, the agency could help fight fires. The helicopters hold a 250-gallon tank that can pull water from Lake Lanier to help douse flames on large buildings or areas.

The helicopters are also often used to help local law enforcement locate missing people or escaped fugitives, Canada said.

The GSP helicopters were the first emergency responders to arrive to a boating accident on the lake in June in which two boys — one of whom went missing under the surface — were killed.

“It’s a win-win for us locally — in the city and the county — to have them stationed here,” Canada said. “It also puts a law enforcement presence at the airport.”

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