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Parish officials and members of the Garry Lewis family stand with a newly erected sign that marks the location of the soon-to-be constructed Livingston Executive Airport, located just south of Interstate 12 near the Satsuma exit. Pictured left to right are: Dana Rushing, Livingston Parish Airport District vice chairman; Jimmy Watson, Town of Walker mayor; James Wascom, Livingston Parish Airport District board member; Jerry Lobell, Livingston Parish Airport District board member; Robert Beard, Lewis Properties manager; Barry Wall, Livingston Parish Airport District board member; Anthony Marino, GEC consultant; Jerri Bankston, Livingston Parish Airport District board member; Mike Erwin, Livingston Parish Airport District board member; Michael Hixson, Michael Baker International aviation operations manager; Mike Vaughn; Lewis family member; Delia A. Taylor, Livingston Parish Airport District chairwoman; Lewis Family members Sheila Goins, Drake Lewis and Stephanie Lewis; Layton Ricks, Livingston Parish President; Lewis Family members Michael Parascandolo, Lydia Parascandolo, Carrie Parascandolo, Gayle Lewis, Garry Lewis and Rodney Lewis; Lucien Cutrera, LJC consultant; Andree Miller, representative for Congressman Garret Graves; All Suggs, Jr., Timberland manager; David McCreary, Town of Livingston mayor; and David Bennett, executive director of the Livingston Economic Development Council.

Courtesy Photo

A recent donation of land in Satsuma makes the construction of a small airport in Livingston Parish financially feasible and fill a need in the region, authorities say. 

A local developer has given 242 acres of land just south of Interstate 12 to the Livingston Parish Airport District to be used for the airport, which has been under discussion since the mid-2000's. Its value will also serve as a critical match for federal funding needed to construct the $32 million Livingston Executive Airport over the next several years, said Airport District vice chairman Dana Rushing.

The airport district announced the donation from Garry Lewis this week. The property he owned was identified a couple years ago as the most feasible location for the public project supporters say will enhance future economic development in the parish. 

"What a blessing," board chairwoman Delia Taylor said. "You find this location, and you have this businessman making this tremendous investment in Livingston Parish's future."

Lewis, 70, lives in Satsuma, and is regional real estate developer. He and other family members have built the Suma Hall Community Center, as well as condominiums and subdivisions in the rapidly growing area between Walker and Livingston.

The real estate developer said he donated the land because he's interested in helping the parish grow, as well as in making medical and security access more available via planes. A former Navy pilot who served in Vietnam, Lewis said he also flies a plane that he currently keeps at a hangar in Baton Rouge. 

"I've been fairly successful, and the parish needs an airport," he said. "I was happy to help them."

He added, "If they would get it done by the time I'm 75 or 76 ... I would love to land on it some day as one of their customers."

Lucien Cutrera, of LJC Planning and Design, who helped select the site, said it was identified for its distance from other airports, as well as from residential development and a waste disposal site. In addition, he considered the distance of the property from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, whose leaders were concerned about potential disruptions to their sensitive apparatuses. 

The site selection drew some public opposition in 2015, when residents of Satsuma considered incorporating, in part as a way to fight back against the project.

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The flying facility is planned as a general aviation airport, meaning it would serve smaller, noncommercial planes, including private planes used by business owners, hobbyists and emergency medical personnel, Taylor said.

Rushing said the airport would serve people in Livingston Parish, as well as others regionally. Already, the airport board has a list of 30 people interested in using the airport, he said. The majority of those people live in Livingston, he said.

The most comparable airport in the area is the Louisiana Regional Airport in Gonzales, he said. However, the airports are unlikely to be in competition, he said, because of high demand, noting there are waiting lists for hangar spots in Gonzales and Hammond. 

"The general consensus is the aviation community would grow instead of cannibalize," Rushing said. 

The airport district announced also that it has hired consultants and engineers to begin drawing plans and applying for federal funding to construct the airport. 

Lead consultant, Michael Hixson, of Michael Baker International Aviation, said the airport will feature a 5,000 foot runway, taxiway, fuel station and a yet-to-be determined number of hangars. 

Hixson said subcontractors GEC, including former Baton Rogue Metro Airport director Anthony Marino, and ELOS Environmental will assist on the project.

Most of the funding to develop the $32 million airport is expected to come from the Federal Aviation Administration. In order to apply for that funding, the airport district first needs to prepare an environmental assessment and economic impact study.

A spokesman for Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development's aviation division confirmed the agency has received the airport district's application for $350,000 to conduct the environmental study. 

The parish may also provide some support. The parish council's finance committee agreed at a meeting last month to put $35,000 in the proposed 2018 budget to pay for startup-related airport costs, including insurance on the new property and an appraisal. 

Hixson said a preliminary environmental study indicated small amounts of wetlands as the only concern requiring mitigation on the site.

David Bennett, CEO of the Livingston Economic Development Council, said he expects the airport to have a positive economic impact on the parish. 

He said this type of airport could cater to Livingston business executives or customers. He said also that some companies could be interested in developing industrial enterprises next to the airport. 

"It's a great potential tool for some of our local businesses," Bennett said. 

Once the studies are completed, Taylor said, the airport district will be able apply for federal funding. 

Hixson, who has advised on other airport projects, said money from the federal government is unlikely to come all at once, but rather in yearly installments. He anticipated the airport could be functioning in five to six years. He said the airport might employ six to seven people once it is completely built with the hangers.

Rushing said the gift of land from Lewis will be more than enough to meet the ten percent match required on most grants. 

After construction, the airport will be supported by the FAA, on-site fueling station, hanger rentals and other activity on the airport, according to Rushing. 

Rushing said the idea of developing an airport dates back about 15 years to when he was approached by a company interested in locating in Livingston Parish, but deterred by the lack of an accessible airport. 

An advisory board was able to get $145,000 from DOTD for preliminary feasibility studies and environmental studies in 2010 that determined there was a need and that the chose location in Satsuma was ideal. 

Taylor said the other members of the airport board are Rushing, James Wascom, Jerry Lobell, Barry Wall, Jerri Bankston, Mike Erwin, Rusty Howard and Harry Wells.

She said board members were appointed by parish council members, the parish president and state Rep. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston.

Follow Caroline Grueskin on Twitter, @cgrueskin.