Vote uncertain on airport matching grant

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town_tupelo_greenBy Robbie Ward

Daily Journal

TUPELO – The City Council remained uncertain Monday about holding a vote today to provide $500,000 toward a matching grant for an airport renovation project rejected less than a year ago.

Council members generally sounded supportive in discussing the Tupelo Regional Airport’s leveraging of state funding to help construct a new taxiway near a crumbling former runway. However, a disagreement between the council and the airport authority about an airport tenant following existing policy may delay the vote.

Council members complained that Universal Asset Management, a company that recycles retired aircraft, leaves planes outside of property leased by the company after removing engines and other valuable parts.

“I have a problem with still seeing 747s just laying out there in the runway after they’ve told us we’ve violated our part of the lease,” said Councilman Lynn Bryan of Ward 2.

Tensions flared between UAM and city during previous discussions about the taxiway project.

Tupelo Regional Airport Executive Director Josh Abramson said he couldn’t promise enforcement of an existing policy for tenants to keep property in space leased.

“Not that it is happening but the policy allows for it to happen,” Abramson told the council.

Council President Mike Bryan responded by refusing to commit to a council vote today on approving the Mississippi Department of Transportation grant.

“We’ll see between now and tomorrow night how council members feel about it,” Bryan said.

A condition of approving the grant could include airport authority members meeting with the council to discuss the UAM issue prior to deciding on the grant.

If the council approves the grant, city taxpayers may be asked to pay costs beyond the $500,000 committed. Estimates for the project are $1.1 million.

“There are no provisions for increasing the funds in this project so any cost overruns must be funded locally or reduce the project to stay within the grant amount,” stated an MDOT letter about the grant.

Abramson said the city shouldn’t worry about future requests for additional funds to construct the taxiway.

“I expect the cost to be less,” Abramson said after the meeting.

MDOT requires formal acceptance of the grant by Aug. 1.

robbie.ward@journalinc.com