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St. Landry Airport Comes Under Scrutiny


 

November 29, 2003

The Advertiser, Lafayette, Louisiana

 

St. Landry Airport Comes Under Scrutiny

 

OPELOUSAS — A St. Landry Parish police juror and an airport fixed wing operator said that poor policy by the airport authority is creating an atmosphere of lax maintenance at the St. Landry Parish Ahart Field Airport near Opelousas.

Their accusation comes in light of a request by the St. Landry Parish Economic and Industrial Development District that parish President-elect Don Menard come to the board’s December meeting to discuss the status of the Opelousas airport.

Grass is being allowed to grow too tall before it is cut, and farm equipment is left lying around, said aviator Bradley Vidrine and District 1 Police Juror Bruce Boudreaux. The airport is in District 1.

On Tuesday, a broken-down tractor was removed from the taxiway after sitting on the pavement for almost two months, Vidrine said. Federal and state regulations prohibit the parking of even an airplane on taxiways, Vidrine said, yet the tractor and other equipment remained.

The SLEIDD board said that it believes the low status of the airport is hurting economic development.

“It is important to economic development that we have a decent airport,” said board member Betty Walker. “I know the Peninsula Gaming people (who are building Evangeline Downs Racetrack and Casino in Opelousas) are not happy. The airport seems to have a difficult time cutting the grass — there are rocks on the runway that can be sucked into the (aircraft) engines.

“I’d like to know what his awareness level is, what his plans are,” Walker said of Menard.

Boudreaux has been complaining about high grass at the airport for months. He said that the Airport Authority’s practice of allowing a hay farmer to harvest the grass instead of paying for someone to cut it is in direct conflict with the airport’s mission.

“The grass has to grow high to cut for hay,” Boudreaux said. “I’m glad SLEIDD is looking into it. I’ve been upset for months with the way things are being done at that airport.”

Bradley Vidrine said that he agrees. He is the owner and operator of Acadiana Fixed Wing, one of two fixed base operators at the airport. The other FBO is Most High Aviation, a firm that also serves as the airport manager of record.

“The hay farmer’s interests and the interests of the airport are in direct opposition. He wants the grass to grow high enough to make hay, and airport regulations say it has to be down to eight to 10 inches,” Vidrine said. Grass along the sides of taxiways often grows so high that pilots taxiing planes cannot see the runway, he said.

“The problems in airport maintenance are a direct responsibility of the airport manager,” Vidrine said.

Vidrine said that he has a problem with the airport authority naming Most High Aviation as the airport manager.

“How can the authority appoint my competitor as the airport manager,” he asked.

“He does that at no cost to the airport authority,” said Darryl Wagley of Most High Aviation owner Terry Myers. Wagley recently resigned from the authority to free more personal time on his schedule. “It’s been a tradition for the FBO to serve as airport manager. He works with the authority in keeping up the grounds.”

“I have no comment on any particular issue at this time,” Myers said Wednesday. “But if they have any concerns, they can bring them up at the airport authority meetings, which is open to the public. As airport manager, I do not have an operating budget. All of that is controlled by the airport authority.”

 


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