Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tupelo Regional Airport (KTUP), Mississippi: Tupelo council demanding answers from Airport Authority

TUPELO, Miss. (WTVA) -- The Tupelo Regional Airport needs a half-million dollars to repair a damaged runway, but the Tupelo City Council's playing hard-ball about handing it over.

The total price tag for that runway repairs is a little more than $1 million. In April, the council said it would pony up half of it, as long as the airport secured a $500,000 grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation to cover the rest.

The airport secured that grant in June, but now the council wants answers before it forks over its half.

The debate boils down to this: one of the airport's tenants, Universal Asset Management (UAM), is parking its planes outside its designated area, and it's doing that for good reason.

The old runway the company is suppose to use is tore up. It has no other place to park its planes, so right now, the airport's not charging it for use of that space.

But now that the city council may fork over $500,000 to fix the runway, it wants to make sure UAM will pay to park outside its lease area once the runway is fixed.

"We just need some information from the Tupelo Airport Authority Board," said Councilman Buddy Palmer. "I think it's at their discretion to change policies and procedures out there. We just need to know what's going to take place after this happens."

UAM is where jets go to die. The company disassembles them and sell the parts for cash.

But Palmer said many residents have complained there are too many jets on the runway at a time, and they said it's becoming an eye-sore.

"They have some concern about that," he said. "This $500,000 that the city is willing to bring up are taxpayer monies."

The council hopes this repaired runway will help UAM disassemble planes more quickly and will force the company to keep its planes within the designated area or face a fine.

But airport director Josh Abramson said it will be up to the board to impose fines.

"I can't really say whether or not a specific fee will be applied to any tenant that operates outside its lease," Abramson said. "But I can tell you that the option is available to make that happen."

The city council will meet with the airport board next Tuesday to discuss its concerns.

It will call a special meeting sometime after that to vote whether to approve the grant.

It must be completed by August 1.

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