VTR’s 4 agree to extension of operations pact
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 9, 2008
MOUND — Representatives of all four owners of the Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport agreed Monday to extend their operating agreement for five years at a meeting held in the airport’s terminal — the first time all four have sat down at the same table since April 2007.
“I think it’s healthy to have the opportunity every five years to sit down and revisit the way we’re doing business,” said Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens. “With the 25-year agreement, in effect we were tying our hands for no benefit.”
A 25-year agreement was signed by Vicksburg, Warren County, Tallulah and Madison Parish in 1983, which bound the four governments to split costs not covered by operational income at the airport in Mound. Those costs have averaged between $20,000 and $30,000 per owner per year, but have increased to between $40,000 and $50,000 this year. The partnership also called for creation of a management board and to put up matching money for capital improvements in equal shares. The $6 million airport cost each owner about $100,000 to build.
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The Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted Sept. 25 to opt out of the operating agreement — which otherwise would have automatically renewed for another 25 years when it expires on Dec. 12 — in hopes of negotiating a shorter agreement.
Everyone at the meeting — including Tallulah Mayor Eddie Beckwith Jr., Madison Parish Police Jury President James Griffin Jr. and Warren County Supervisors David McDonald, Bill Lauderdale and William Banks — voiced support of a five-year agreement if it does not affect the airport’s eligibility for Federal Aviation Administration funds. Nearing completion at the facility now are the addition of a parallel taxiway and full instrument landing system.
Leyens and Vicksburg South Ward Aldermen Sid Beauman said there has been confusion about the length of the contract as it related to FAA grants, and said a five-year agreement — which will also automatically renew if the members have no objections — will not necessarily mean VTR will be excluded from future FAA grants.
“There’s no relationship whatsoever between FAA grants and our agreement,” said Leyens. “The FAA doesn’t care what our agreement is.”
Lacey. D. Sprigg, manager of the FAA Southwest Division — which includes Louisiana, but not Mississippi — said without reading the new operational agreement he could not comment on whether or not it would affect VTR’s chances of getting FAA grants.
The Vicksburg Tallulah District Airport Board meets monthly, with one member appointed by each municipal board and an additional member whose appointment rotates between the parish and county.
When it opened in 1993, VTR replaced Vicksburg Municipal Airport as the FAA designated airport for the area. The federal agency maintained that position until a one-paragraph letter arrived at City Hall in 2007, announcing Vicksburg Municipal was again eligible for grants.
The owners also agreed Monday to meet at least twice per year in the future, with one of the meetings to occur before Aug. 15 to discuss the airport budget; to have VTR Manager Randy Woods adopt a policy of setting fuel prices within 15 cents of prices at regional airports; to allow for a majority rule among the owners in future endeavors at the airport, excluding budget issues; to give owners the authority to remove VTR airport board appointees at their will and pleasure; and to require the VTR airport board to submit a balanced budget with profit and loss statements.
All of the agreements made between the owners must be approved by the four municipal boards before they become official.
Also present at Monday’s meeting were, from Vicksburg, North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield, City Clerk Walter Osborne and City Attorney Nancy Thomas, as well as Warren County Administrator John Smith.
Construction of VTR, about 8 miles west of Vicksburg, originally grew out of a study on whether Vicksburg Muncipal, built on U.S. 61 South in 1950, could be improved. That study revealed FAA grants were available for new construction of regional facilities, and elected officials at that time saw it as an opportunity to get an all-new, expandable airport.
Warren County supervisors threatened pulling out of the regional deal several times. Ten years ago, Vicksburg officials voted to close the city’s airport. That led to a lawsuit by industrialists, businessmen and civilian pilots who favored Vicksburg Municipal and continued to operate it, privately, for four years. In 2002, the state Supreme Court ruled the city had the authority to close the airport, but a new administration favored keeping it open.
Vicksburg took a renewed interest in Vicksburg Municipal this year, acquiring it as an official department of the city in October and taking over all administrative duties from its board — which now serves solely as an advisory panel. The Vicksburg Municipal terminal is currently being gutted out for rehabilitation, and last week officials announced they are pursuing a $60 million defense testing facility, which would be based at the airport and Engineering Research and Development Center in Vicksburg.
The city is also waiting to receive a $262,206 Delta Regional Authority grant to purchase and clear 19-acres of land north of the runway, as well as install fencing that meets FAA requirements.
Leyens has said timing of developments at Vicksburg Municipal and renegotiation of its operational agreement with partners at VTR is coincidental.
Contact Steve Sanoski at email@example.com.