Shafted|City leaves VTR partners flapping in the breeze

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 26, 2008

It’s a good thing shifting political winds don’t actually create atmospheric turbulence. If so, landing a plane at either Vicksburg Municipal or Vicksburg Tallulah Regional airport would be a disaster in the making.

Subtly at first, but with growing enthusiasm, the crew now on duty at City Hall has decided to reinvigorate the city-owned air strip on U.S. 61 South. In the process, the mayor and aldermen have shafted — or are in the process of shafting — Warren County, Madison Parish and Tallulah, their partners in ownership of VTR.

Behind-the-scenes maneuvering has led to the older airport becoming eligible for federal funds once again — and an allocation of nearly $300,000 was announced by U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss, last week. The city is also spending millions of federal and local dollars on a new fire station and terminal building at Vicksburg Municipal and has hired a consultant to guide improvements. Mayor Laurence Leyens has bold plans for Vicksburg Municipal’s future, that may well bear big dividends for the city.

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Meanwhile, at what may be a rather tension-filled meeting, the four owners of VTR, at Mound, La., are to huddle to talk about that facility’s future.

Specifically, the city is saying it wants any renewal of the existing ownership agreement to be shorter than the agreement expiring in December. Problem is, a shorter term would render VTR ineligible for Federal Aviation Administration money.

Pretty crafty, huh?

Most residents could not care less about either facility. Local airports are important to the Corps of Engineers, business and industry. The general population doesn’t care if we have an airport at all.

But we note the price we pay for officials’ whims.

VTR was the darling of local elected officials from 1983. When it opened in 1993, there were bold plans for its future, too. But times changed. Even though a $4 million upgrade to include a parallel taxiway and instrument landing system is under way at VTR, the Louisiana airport is about to be orphaned by one of the four owners.

The work there, along with construction of VTR, has come at very little local cost — hence “free” in the minds of local politicians who persist in the myth that federal money is not real money. It seems clear enough (and has for decades) that taxpayers — local, state or federal — should not be expected to pay for two full-service civil aviation facilities eight air miles from each other.

Political winds shift. That’s what they do. No reason to expect otherwise.

And the people keep paying.