City keeps Vicksburg airport open

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, August 4, 2015

STAYING OPEN: Two planes sit outside the Vicksburg Municipal Airport terminal in July.

STAYING OPEN: Two planes sit outside the Vicksburg Municipal Airport terminal in July.

Vicksburg Municipal Airport will remain open.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen, Monday, agreed to keep the city’s 67-year-old airport open and gave City Attorney Nancy Thomas approval to submit an application for Federal Aviation Administration funds to remove trees from the north end of the airport’s runway and install a precision approach path indicator. The FAA has allocated $441,000 for the project.

The board, July 20, took under advisement bids to install the PAPI from Killen Contractors, Inc. $54,221; Lewis Electric of Jackson, $102,840; and Webster Electric Co. of Meridian, $62,450. The Board received a bid of $142,185 from Look’s Great Service Inc. of Columbia to clear the woods. No bid has been awarded.

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No official vote was taken whether to close the airport.

“I think I had represented to the community that we would take a vote sometime this month whether or not we would permanently close the airport for economic reasons. I’m of the opinion that there is no (need to) vote because we had not made any (prior) decision,” Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said Monday before polling Aldermen Michael Mayfield and Willis Thompson on their opinions. Both agreed to keep the airport open.

Thompson, who at one time favored using the airport site as the location for a proposed multipurpose recreation complex, said Monday he did not favor closing the airport solely to locate a recreation facility there. Although, he believed the airport would have been the perfect location for recreation had it closed.

“That airport is at full capacity, we receive revenue from fuel sales and hangar rentals … I see it as an amenity to the city,” said Thompson, who represents the South Ward, which includes the airport. “We have pilots that use it, we have some industries that still fly into that airport.

“It’s just my opinion, why would you give away 100 percent of what you own for 25 percent,” he said. “With 100 percent, you’re going to have flexibility that will allow (the board) to make any decision we want to make for the use of the airport, and you don’t have that flexibility with 25 percent, and then you have that money that you are taking out of the city of Vicksburg. It’s just not feasible to close the airport.”

Mayfield said he still has questions about closing the airport.

“If we vote to close it, where are we going to get the money to pay, because we’re going to have to pay some money back,” he said. The total amount of FAA and state grants for the airport is about $1.3 million; $813,794 of that is federal funds.

“You have those tenants, who, if we close today, would have nowhere to go and there’s not enough hangars (for them) across the bridge (at Vicksburg-Tallulah),” he said. “Everyone has their own opinion about it and some that could care less about either one. Some people want the airport in Tallulah, La. and some that want the airport here. It’s an issue the three of us will never win.”

Thompson said the majority of the funds for the airport come from the FAA, “And if the FAA sees it viable to continue to fund it with hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, who are we to disagree with that?”

“If the place wasn’t being utilized, I would be in favor of closing it, but that’s not the case, and to close it for the reasons that we are talking about closing it, I couldn’t see closing it for those reasons,” he said.

Discussions about closing the Vicksburg Municipal Airport began in early June, and at one time the facility was considered as one of four possible locations for the recreation complex.

Flaggs on July 9 called for a public hearing on the airport after a meeting with FAA officials, who indicated the city would have to reimburse the FAA and the Mississippi Department of Transportation $1.3 million in grant funds to the city to improve airport safety.

About 40 people attended the July 16 public hearing to hear several residents discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both the municipal airport and Vicksburg-Tallulah, and the effect on economic development if the airport here is closed.

Built in 1948, the general aviation airport has been in operation since 1950.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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