Airport talk turns to improving city’s facility on U.S. 61 South|[01/04/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 4, 2008

With the Vicksburg Municipal Airport now eligible for funding through the Federal Aviation Administration, there’s a new push for improvements there.

Mayor Laurence Leyens hosted the airport board’s monthly meeting in his office Thursday, discussing the various ideas and how to bring them to fruition at the airport built in 1950 on U.S. 61 South.

A new terminal and rental hangars as well as removing trees on sloping ground north of the airport top the wish list — and, after a 25-year lapse, sources of funding for such initiatives seem ample.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“The city has committed itself to this airport for the next 10 years. We should make it good,” Leyens said.

Meeting next week’s pre-application deadline for a grant from the Delta Regional Authority is a top priority. There is $1 million available statewide, and board members said prospects look good for the airport to receive some of it. Leyens asked Jay Kilroy, a member of the airport panel, to seek participation agreements from businesses along U.S. 61 that use the airport, pledging to retain jobs at their Vicksburg facilities should improvements be made to the airport. The letters will be included with the grant application.

In the early 1980s, city officials joined with those in Warren County, Madison Parish and Tallulah in committing their support for a new, regional civil airport to be built at Mound, about eight miles west of the Vicksburg airport. Federal dollars paid for 90 percent of the $6 million construction costs that led to a formal opening in 1993. As part of the deal, Vicksburg Tallulah Regional became “the” airport for the area and Scott Field in Tallulah and Vicksburg Municipal were deemed ineligible for federal dollars, most of which come from taxes on aviation fuel.

After city officials voted 2-1 in 1988 to close Vicksburg Municipal, business interests in Vicksburg fought for the airport to remain open, but eventually lost in the state Supreme Court. But by then a new city administration was committed to keeping it open along with VTR and began to lobby for funds. First came a $650,000 state grant, most of which went to runway repairs. The FAA, however, as recently as April reminded city officials of the deal and refused to return the city airport to the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems. That changed in December with a three-paragraph letter from the FAA, reportedly obtained after Mississippi’s congressional delegation lobbied on the city’s behalf.

“We got back on NPIAS, which is a huge deal,” Leyens said. “The bottom line is, we need to give the airport board some capital so they can have a long-term future and start generating revenue.”

Ground work on the first of three buildings that will house 10 airport hangars is nearly complete, and Leyens pledged city funding in lieu of other sources for the completion of the hangars, which will generate revenue through leases and fuel sales for the planes based there. Leyens said he would like to see the airport weaned from dependence on city funds, and raised the possibility of using city crews to build the concrete foundation as a cost-saver.

Leyens said he will ask Gov. Haley Barbour to sign off on a community development block grant approved through Mississippi Development Authority for $3.5 million that would fund the construction of a new terminal and Vicksburg Fire Department station at the airport.

The board is also eyeing homeland security grants for funding. Applications for such grants have been unsuccessful, but efforts are continuing through the office of U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, who was instrumental in getting the airport back on the federal roll.

The airport will also be eligible for money from the FAA in 2009 from what board president Kimble Slaton described as an “entitlement fund” of $150,000 based on pro rata disbursements.

Vicksburg and its partners are also continuing to budget small operational supplements needed at VTR.

Both airports have mile-long runways and neither is served by a scheduled air carrier.

Airport officials will meet with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officers soon to propose building a 7,000 foot east-to-west runway that could land larger commercial, freight and military aircraft.