City spends $19,000 for VTR T-hangars

Published 12:10 pm Thursday, March 11, 2010

With support of the City of Vicksburg and Warren County, the Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport in Mound, La., is moving forward with plans to build a T-hangar similar to one currently under construction at the city-owned Vicksburg Municipal Airport.

Wednesday, the board of mayor and aldermen OK’d a request by VTR — which the city owns in equal shares with Warren County, Tallulah and Madison Parish — for $19,210.75 to help secure an engineer for the project.

“We’ve already completed grading and banking for a new set of T-hangars, and what we need to do now is complete the engineering portion of it,” Benny Terrell, VTR board chairman, told the mayor and aldermen. “We have received funding from the three other entities and we’re just waiting for Vicksburg.”

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The total T-hanager project at VTR is estimated to cost $700,000, Terrell said. The airport is in the process of applying for a $300,000 grant from the state of Louisiana — which Terrell said requires no local match — to get construction under way.

The metal buildings have walls that divide interiors into rentable spaces into “T” shapes, which can accommodate most small civilian aircraft. Income goes to defray airport operational costs.

“We’d like to build 13 (bays), but what we’ve decided to do is build whatever number we can afford with the money we receive and try to secure additional grant funds later to complete the project,” Terrell said.

He said a total of $126,842 has been spent on the work. Since VTR opened in 1993, the four owners have split operating expenses not covered by income, usually about $20,000 per year each.

When asked following the meeting if VTR might ask the four partners to foot the bill for the completion of the T-hangar project should grant funds be unavailable, Terrell said “you can never say never.

“But what we’re trying to do first is get the money by other means that will not obligate the owners,” he continued. “With the economy the way it is right now, we know it’s going to be pretty tough to go to your owners and ask for $300,000 to $400,000. But in order for us to progress we need hangars.”

The airport in Mound has 11 T-hangar bays, nine of which have paying tenants, Terrell said.

Meanwhile, Vicksburg Municipal Airport Manager Curt Follmer informed the board Wednesday he’s slightly scaling back a similar 10-bay T-hangar being built on U.S. 61 South, the first at that facility.

“Usually when I come before the board it’s typically to ask for money,” Follmer said. “In this particular case, it’s a reversal. I’m giving money back.”

Follmer said about $7,000 will be saved by eliminating some conduits on the project that would have aided any future extension of the T-hangar. The project has been hampered by wet weather, but the T-hangar is nearing completion.

“If the weather gets nice we’ll be in those in two months,” Follmer said.

The Vicksburg airport project in Vicksburg will cost about $750,000, of which the city will be responsible for about $410,000, said Follmer. The rest is being paid for with a share of the $1.3 million Community Development Block Grant the city was awarded following Hurricane Katrina.

A fire station is being built with the largest share of the CDBG grant funds, but, like the T-hangar project, it has been delayed through the winter by continually wet conditions. Ground work on the fire station began in September and has yet to be completed.

Meanwhile, an in-house renovation of the airport’s terminal building — which began October 2008 — also has been stalled. While the exterior of the terminal building was completed shortly after Mayor Paul Winfield took office in July, the interior remains in gutted.Under the direction of former Mayor Laurence Leyens, the City of Vicksburg pledged renewed support of the Vicksburg airport in 2008. At that time, the airport was made an official department of the city, Follmer was brought on as manager, a 20-year development plan was created and the terminal renovation was started.

Construction of VTR, about 8 miles west of Vicksburg, grew from a study on whether Vicksburg Municipal Airport, built in 1950, could be improved. The study revealed FAA grants were available for new construction of regional facilities, and elected officials at the time saw it as an opportunity to get a new, expandable airport to replace the Vicksburg airport.

Legal maneuvering in the late 1990s culminated in a lawsuit by industrialists who favored keeping the city open. A 2002 ruling by the Mississippi Supreme Court allowed the city to close the airport but, by then, the Leyens administration had committed to keeping it open.

The current administration led by Winfield has pledged to support both airports. However, North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said with revenues as tight as they are, it’s going to be hard to continue funding large projects like the T-hangars at both airports.

“This, of course, has been an ongoing cycle with both airports for a number of years now. But what both of them have to realize is the city is in dire straits right now, and money — or lack of it — is going to dictate everything we do,” he said. “The bottom line here is: how much can you afford to spend? How much will the citizens allow you to spend? I’m sure the citizens are going to weigh in on this.”

South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman missed his third straight board meeting on Wednesday. Reached at home following the meeting, Beauman said he recently underwent a minor surgery on his neck and has been recovering. The alderman said he has been working from his City Hall office occasionally over the past few weeks and expects to be at the board’s next regular meeting, Monday.