Vicksburg Tallulah airport contract in limbo

Published 2:27 am Sunday, November 30, 2008

Four local governments are trying to redraw their contract for operating the Vicksburg Tallulah Regional Airport.

Officials are trying to decide how much autonomy the airport board should have on issues such as purchasing fuel.

The current 25-year pact among Vicksburg and Warren County in Mississippi and Tallulah and Madison Parish in Louisiana expires Dec. 12.

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Vicksburg officials voted in September to end their financial obligation to the airport. The city wants to shorten the agreement to, at most, 10 years. The other owners are deciding how to continue if the city pulls out.

Tallulah Mayor Eddie Beckwith says another meeting of the owners is set for Dec. 8.

The airport is 8 miles west of Vicksburg at Mound, La. It was conceived in 1983 as an inexpensive way for the four local governments to get a new airport. The airport opened a decade later.

At the time, the Federal Aviation Administration was favoring airport partnerships and provided 90 percent of the $6 million initial cost, making each partner’s share $150,000.

The economic impact of VTR and Vicksburg Municipal Airport on U.S. 61 South has been part of the debate among the members, including how the VTR management makes purchases.

Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens said the VTR board should have greater oversight over the budget and purchases and economic development.

The FAA has stipulated long-term agreements to keep owners of airports eligible for federal grants.

Money from hurricane recovery grants issued to states affected by Hurricane Katrina are financing a new fire station and improved terminal at Vicksburg Municipal. Another $262,000 from the Delta Regional Authority will pay for cutting trees and brush to expand the landing and takeoff space just north of the 5,000-foot runway.

Warren County supervisors have maintained a nearly neutral stance throughout.

VTR “seems to have a much more viable future as a regional airport. Even an idiot can see that,” said board president Richard George.

Economic development is more viable at the Mound facility because of busier runways, supervisors said.

Since VTR opened, each partner has paid about $30,000 in annual subsidies to fund non-capital, basic operations. The airport’s board is made up of members appointed by each of the four owners, plus one position that rotates between Warren County and Madison Parish.

Legal battles in the late 1990s between industrialists who favor Vicksburg Municipal staved off its closing, which loomed again with a 2002 Mississippi Supreme Court ruling allowing the city to do so.

The city decided to keep the local airport open, establishing an advisory board in 2005 which oversaw its budget until the city board dissolved it in September and absorbed the airport as a city department.