Another change coming to airport

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Another enhancement of Vicksburg Municipal Airport is in line for federal funding as federal work also continues at Vicksburg Tallulah Regional Airport eight miles to the west.

A $262,206 grant through the Delta Regional Authority has been designated to clear trees on the approach to the U.S. 61 South facility, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said Tuesday.

Specifically, the grant would allow the city to acquire right-of-way across part of a 19-acre tract of trees and brush on the north side of the 5,000-foot runway, Mayor Laurence Leyens said, shortly after the mayor termed Thompson Vicksburg’s “best friend” in Washington.

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Addressing about 100 people at a Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce luncheon, the seven-term congressman alluded to some advantages in reinvesting in the city airport on U.S. 61 South, which was off the federal funding eligibility list for 14 years, versus Vicksburg Tallulah Regional Airport in Mound.

“That’s what makes the difference for Vicksburg and Warren County is that it’s right here,” Thompson said.

Built in 1950, the city has treated the airport with renewed vigor since its December 2007 reinstatement to the FAA list of about 3,300 facilities eligible for grants. In the past few weeks, Leyens and both aldermen removed control of spending and operations from the airport advisory board, while keeping its members available for input. A 20-year plan is under study by Birmingham-based Excel Aviation Consulting Service, which was hired by the city earlier this month to help find a full-time manager and secure federal grants, among other goals.

Vicksburg became a one-fourth partner with Madison Parish, Tallulah and Warren County in 1983 to build VTR at Mound, using a $6 million FAA grant. When VTR opened in 1993, it replaced Vicksburg Municipal as the FAA designated airport for the area. The federal agency maintained that position until a one-paragraph letter arrived at City Hall, announcing Vicksburg Municipal was again eligible for grants.

Meanwhile, about $4 million is being spent at VTR as part of a continuing upgrade. This phase is adding a parallel taxiway and instrument landing system.

City officials have not formally withdrawn their support for VTR, but partners have been left in doubt. Their operations agreement, under which supplements to operational costs are shared at about $30,000 per year each, expires in December. Leyens has said the city will enter a new agreement for a term shorter than the minimum required for continued FAA funding. A meeting is set for Oct. 29.

The municipal airport board met Tuesday with Excel Aviation President Loyce Clark for the first time. Also present was Wayne Caldwell —  a former FAA employee and current vice president of Jackson-based engineering and planning firm Neel-Schaffer — who is also being hired to provide consultation work. The special called board meeting, which was open to the public, took place in a legal department meeting room at City Hall, although the board had announced it would take place at the City Hall Annex building next door. At the meeting, the airport board officially turned over all of its operating contracts and hangar leases to the city as part of its transition into a city department. Board chairman Kimble Slaton said none of the terms of the contracts — which include those with Eastern Aviation Fuels and Airport Manager Frank May — were altered before being turned over to the city.

About $1.3 million in Katrina-related grant money has been targeted to build a new fire station and remodel the terminal. Work at the terminal began in late September, and is being done by city employees.


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