Airport project on fast track

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 24, 2003


LAPLACE – Despite efforts by the state of Mississippi to quickly build a rival regional airport, the Louisiana Airport Authority is winging its way toward construction, confident it is on the inside track.

“It would be difficult for Mississippi to move forward with it, as long as we’re in play,” LAA Chairman Glen Smith said.

Meanwhile, as official support builds, local opposition likewise builds in the Ascension/Iberville/Assumption parishes area on the West Bank – announced as the prime site to locate a 25,300-acre intermodal transportation center, combining airport, rail, dock and highway facilities.

A financial plan will be developed, selection of a master developer, environmental analysis, road and rail study and intermodal study are all contemplated through 2003, with an environmental impact study due to start in August 2003 and complete by December 2004. The town of White Castle, city of Donaldsonville, Ascension and Assumption parish governments have all approved resolutions of support, in the face of some local opposition.

Iberville Parish’s chamber of Commerce has also given its approval to the project.

The public information period will continue through August 2003.

At a recent LAA meeting, senior planner Scott Hoffeld of URS Corporation said the master development plan is nearing completion, with forecasts on anticipated tonnage, freight and required square footage for each function.

“It will help us in phasing the construction,” Hoffeld said, and added the plan will be completed this spring, illustrating how best the facility would function and fit in the existing environment.

Opponents to the plan, on the other hand, say it will destroy the region’s local culture and displace at least 900 residents. Proponents insist the facility woudl transform Louisiana’s economy and boost economic development and trade efforts in Central and South America.

A group of potential investors were also announced, including Aeroports de Paris Groupe, which owns and operates airports in Paris and elsewhere; Aeroterm, a cargo operator at several U.S. airports; Bechtel Enterprises/Alterra Partners Litd., an engineering construction company; Boh Brothers Construction; British Airport Authority, which owns seven airports in Great Britain; CenterPoint Properties, a Chicago-based firm which develops air freight parks; Copenhagen Airport A/S, one of Europe’s four largest airport companies; Fraport AG, which owns and operates Frankfurt, Germany’s airport; Hochtieff AirPort GmbH, developer and operator of the Athens, Greece airport; Johnson Brothers, a civil contractor firm; Schiphol USA, which operates Amsterdam International Airport; and Trammel Crow Co., a Dallas-based real estate developer.

Smith said many of these companies have expressed interest in investing in the project, and all have the qualifications and experience in financing, developing, designing and constructing and operating projects of this size.

The LAA has issued a Request for Qualifications from potential investors, with an April deadline.

Tangipahoa Parish LAA commissioner Lewis Smith commented, “The U.S. is the last country in the world trying to build airports with federal money.”