Airport expansion vital, director says

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 25, 2004


Managing Editor

LULING – The director of aviation for Louis Armstrong International Airport, Roy Williams, explained to the St. Charles Parish Economic Development Council on Wednesday the need for runway expansion into the parish.

Williams also dismissed with an “It’ll never happen,” the Louisiana Airport Authority’s planned intermodal airport near Donaldsonville.

Williams provided a slide presentation detailing the economic impact of the Kenner-based airport but said the airport is a victim of its own success.

With passenger volume up and freight up, Armstrong International expects to be handling 10 million passengers in just a few years. It already would have reached that plateau, except that the 9/11 events slowed airline travel for a time.

Currently, the airport provides nearly 600 employees with a $27.4 million payroll, generating a million dollars in tax revenue and is the sixth-largest employer for St. Charles Parish.

Besides the airport’s need for a new north-south runway, Williams said the present passenger terminal is fast outgrowing itself and a second building is on the drawing boards.

At present, the north-south runway project, to be built entirely in St. Charles Parish, north of Airline Highway and very near James Business Park, is in the environmental impact stage, with public hearings set the weekend of Jan. 24, 2005.

Two of those hearings will be held in St. Charles Parish, one on the East Bank and one on the West Bank, Williams said.

More exact information on the impact of a new runway in St. Rose, Destrehan and Ama are anticipated at those hearings, he said, and anyone opposing the development should wait for more current information.

St. Charles Parish President Albert Laque has been a vocal opponent of the project for several years, as well as council members in the areas to be affected by noise.

Williams pledged that buyout bids for the “300 or so” homes to be affected will be fair and reasonable, based on prices of similar homes not near airports, but as close as possible, plus $20,000 in “relocation costs.”

Williams added he anticipates the Federal Aviation Administation will be sued over the runway proposal, but he added the FAA has never lost such a suit.

The affect of the new runway on James Business Park is expected to be minimal, without tearing down a single building.

The largest obstacle to the Armstrong Airport expansion, Williams admitted, is the necessary relocation of the Illinois Central Railroad tracks, which could delay it for several years.

However, even with that, the aviation director predicted the new runway will be operational within 15 years.

In a discussion period following his presenation, Williams said the LAA’s Louisiana Transportation Center intermodal airport cannot succeed without the base population to provide employees and the prohibitive distance from any interstate highway.

“I do not foresee it will ever happen,” Williams said.