Year in review: City, airport wrangle over improvements

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com Josh Abramson, from left, James Johnson and George Smith inspect the old runway at Tupelo Regional Airport that must be repaired after years of neglect.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Josh Abramson, from left, James Johnson and George Smith inspect the old runway at Tupelo Regional Airport that must be repaired after years of neglect.

By Dennis Seid

Daily Journal

TUPELO – For months, city and airport officials were embroiled in negotiations to improve portions of the old runway at Tupelo Regional Airport.

The airport authority said $1.2 million was needed to fix a taxiway and parts of the runway to provide better access for some of its tenants.

No tenant was bigger than Universal Asset Management, which employs more than 80 people at its aircraft disassembling operations at the airport.

But city officials balked at the figure, saying a fix of $107,000 was adequate.

UAM said it was supporting the airport authority’s request, saying it was part of the city’s obligation anyway to make the repairs.

But the city said it was not responsible for the condition of the old runway, insisting that additional damage was done by UAM bringing large aircraft like the Boeing 747 onto the pavement that wasn’t built to withstand such weight.

The parties met several times over the summer to no avail.

UAM, which moved to Tupelo in 2011, said future employment depended on its ability to bring aircraft into Tupelo to dismantle.

Keri Wright, CEO and president of UAM, told the council before a November vote on the request that the company had pledged $29 million to salaries and benefits, utility costs and supplies in the community.

“We’re definitely on the same page,” Wright told the city council. “I think we’re on the same page; we just need to work closer together to get there.”

City officials said they wanted more information from UAM but couldn’t get it; UAM said it had kept its doors open to communication but never heard from the city.

Ultimately, the city voted unanimously not to grant the $1.2 million request.

With this denial for funding, the airport’s leadership in April will pursue funding via a competitive grant.

Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton has said the city is willing to negotiate how much taxpayer funds to put toward the capital project but UAM hasn’t been willing to financially support the project.

“I just want to publicly state again Tupelo is willing to negotiate matters and we’re committed to protecting jobs in our city,” Shelton said. “We’re willing to negotiate when it’s done in an acceptable manner.”

dennis.seid@journalinc.com