HAMMOND — The City Council agreed Tuesday to move forward on early stages of a proposal to build and operate an air traffic control tower at Hammond Northshore Regional Airport.
The council unanimously approved a resolution allowing Mayor Mayson Foster to proceed with a $94,000 contract with Alliance Inc. for design and site selection of the tower.
Alliance Inc., a Shreveport-based airport advisory company, has served as consultant to Northshore Regional Airport for several years.
Foster called approval of the resolution “about step three in a 10-step process to eventually secure a control tower at our airport.”
Foster said that planning for a control tower began in 2006 after the Louisiana Army National Guard announced its intention to relocate its air operations to Hammond from New Orleans’ Lakefront Airport following Hurricane Katrina’s strike in 2005.
Since then, hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal funds have been spent on construction of new headquarters for the 244th and 204th units of the Louisiana Army Air National Guard. The units fly helicopters in support of the Louisiana Army National Guard and the U.S. Army.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection maintains a base at Northshore Regional, operating both fixed-wing and rotor aircraft. Several private operators maintain hangars there as well.
Foster told the council that once the tower is constructed, the Louisiana Army National Guard would be responsible for manning it. Early estimates indicate about 10 tower operators will be needed, he said, adding that the National Guard would determine if the tower is to be manned by its own personnel or by contract workers.
Foster told the council that city funds would neither be spent on staffing the tower nor would he recommend spending additional funds on the project until documents between the Northshore Airport Authority, which oversees operations at the facility, the Army Air National Guard and the city have been agreed who would be responsible for managing the tower.
Jason Ball, director of Northshore Regional, said that the FAA has established thresholds for determining when it would maintain an airport control facility. He said that Northshore Regional now has about 112,000 to 115,000 “operations” per year, just below the FAA numbers.
Foster said that he could offer a long list of reasons for proceeding with building the tower but emphasized the No. 1 justification is the need for airport safety. He said that air traffic has increased considerably during the past several years at Northshore Regional and that control measures have become an issue. “This is something that is desperately needed,” the mayor said.
Economic development is another factor in moving forward with the control tower, Foster said. He added that a cargo carrier already is looking at a facility in Hammond and that a control tower would be an incentive locating at the airport.
Other business taken up by the council included:
SALES TAX REVENUE: Foster said that the city’s June sales tax collections again exceeded amounts for the same month a year ago. A total of $1.244 million was reported for the June collections, up by about 1 percent over last year.
For the past five months, sales tax receipts have exceeded collections for the same months last year. Foster said he was very optimistic about July tax collections because historically July has been a good month for Hammond sales.
Foster said that the 2011-12 city budget anticipates a $1.7 million surplus in the sales tax fund and that if returns continue their current trend, that target surplus can be achieved.