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Apron construction to begin at airport this summer

[02/02/01] MOUND With all four owners now pitching in to fund the regional airport in Louisiana, officials there say everything is on track.

A sign of new life at the Vicksburg Tallulah Regional Airport, embroiled in courts and politics during most of its existence, is a $500,000 grant to pay for a long-awaited apron project.

Airport manager Randy Woods said he expects the project, adding more paved area for planes to park and taxi, to get under way this summer.

“It will finish all of the parking area from the original design,” Woods said.

After 18 plaintiffs sued the City of Vicksburg in February 1998 to keep the Vicksburg Municipal Airport on U.S. 61 South open, the budget for VTR was severely limited for 16 months until the Warren County Board of Supervisors resumed sending its budgeted supplements last year.

The airport is supported by its own income plus allocations of about $24,000 a year from each of the four owners; Vicksburg, Warren County, Tallulah and Madison Parish. Capital projects and matching money for FAA grants are funded separately.

To resume funding, both Vicksburg and Warren County formed airport authorities in compliance with a court ruling in the litigation. That didn’t end the matter. Two suits are pending before the Mississippi Supreme Court, and another has been delayed in Warren County Circuit Court pending the ruling of the Supreme Court.

VTR Board chairman Carroll Regan said the lack of funding had prevented the airport from taking on capital improvement projects, including the apron, and held up grants from the FAA.

“They told us that they didn’t like the uncertainty,” Regan said.

This year’s project requires the airport to match federal funds with a 10 percent local share.

The airport board had often delayed payments for fuel and frequently had troubles when it came time to meet payroll for the three employees leaving expensive capital improvement projects only a dream.

“We’re starting to do some things now,” Regan said. “You can do a lot more when you have money.”

VTR’s board approved a $2.8 million “wish list” of capital improvement items for this year’s budget including the apron. Other projects on the list are a runway overlay, additional T-hangar rental spaces, taxiway lighting, a line shack, a van and a parallel taxiway.

VTR directors remain cautious about the future funding of the airport, Regan indicated. Already this year, Madison Parish has fallen behind on payments by about $12,000. Regan said the funding which was delayed because of tax collection problems in the parish was paid in full on Jan. 18 and had not caused any significant problems for the board.

“Everyone is up to date at this time,” he said.

Still officials there will be watching the upcoming Vicksburg elections this June. The city board had voted 2-1 in 1998 to close the city’s airport in favor of VTR, but South Ward Alderman Sam Habeeb, who voted with Mayor Robert Walker for VTR, is leaving office and not seeking a second term.

“I already got contacted by one guy running for mayor who was asking a lot of questions about the airport,” Woods said.