Airport appeal going to high court Sept. 11

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 5, 2000

After more than two and a half years of legal strife, the controversy over local funding for the regional airport in Mound has found its way to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Justices will take up the first of two appeals pending before the bench on Sept. 11. The question facing the high court is if the city legally formed the airport authority that has been funneling funds to the Vicksburg Tallulah Regional Airport since July 1999.

The issue of forming an airport authority as a buffer between Vicksburg and liability associated with the airport in Louisiana was first raised by the 18 area businessmen who sued the city after the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 2-1 in 1998 to close the city’s airport on U.S. 61 South.

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After Circuit Judge Frank Vollor ruled in November of that year that creating an authority was needed for a Mississippi entity to fund an airport in another state, the plaintiffs appealed the decision, arguing that the 1983 and 1997 agreements among the city, Warren County, Madison Parish and Tallulah to form VTR were not legal. The appeal headed to the Supreme Court after Circuit Judge Isadore Patrick threw out the case.

There will be no oral arguments presented to the court from either side for the review of the appeal and it could be months before a decision is handed down.

In a second appeal awaiting a date with the court, attorneys for the city are asking the courts to overturn an injunction keeping open the city airport on U.S. 61 South.

In other pending litigation surrounding VTR, a stay was entered in a separate suit filed by the city airport authority seeking an end to lawsuits over the airport. Vollor, who ruled the city’s airport on U.S. 61 South was to remain open until “adequate” facilities were made available, placed the motion for summary judgment on hold until after the Supreme Court rules in both cases.

Controversy over VTR began after Mayor Robert Walker and South Ward Alderman Sam Habeeb voted to close Vicksburg Municipal Airport in favor of the regional airport in Mound. North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young voted to keep the city’s airport open.

After the lawsuit was filed a month later by businessmen seeking to keep the airport open, Vicksburg stopped funding the Mound airport until forming the authority last year. If the Supreme Court justices agree with the plaintiffs, funding for the regional airport could again be an issue.

Warren County also ceased funding to the airport to avoid being caught up in the suits, but resumed funding after forming a separate authority earlier this year.

The regional airport is financially supported by the four government owners that pay operating expenses not covered by revenue. In the current budget, VTR is requesting about $24,836 from each owner.