In The News › Council panel OKs airport idea

Jun 4, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: Airport, Orleans Parish

Council panel OKs airport idea

Council panel OKs airport idea
But N.O. voters should have a say
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
By Bruce Eggler
Staff writer

A New Orleans City Council committee voted Tuesday to endorse the “overall intent” of a bill in the state Legislature creating a regional airport authority that would help draw up terms under which the city might give up control of Louis Armstrong International Airport, but committee members said the bill should not take effect unless approved by New Orleans voters and a two-thirds majority of the council.

“We are not at all at the point where we are ready to make an endorsement of transferring or sharing the airport,” Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said. “At the end of the day it may come out that this is not a good idea for the city.”

Before the vote, Ron Forman, a leading proponent of a plan to transfer ownership of Armstrong Airport to the state in return for about $500 million to finance economic development and infrastructure projects in New Orleans, told the committee that House Bill 1272 by itself would be almost meaningless.

He said it would create an agency that would have no authority over Armstrong Airport unless the city agrees in the future to transfer the facility to the state.

Council President Jackie Clarkson said the agency would be “an authority that has no authority.”

But Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis warned that any action by the council endorsing the bill even in concept “would send a signal that we are moving in the direction” of giving up control of the airport.

“Some people would feel the deal has been done” without any chance for the public to express its views, she said.

In addition, critics such as Janet Howard, president of the Bureau of Governmental Research, and political consultant Ron Nabonne dismissed arguments that passage of the House bill would have no real meaning.

Howard said the bill would decide who would appoint the new board’s members, thereby significantly influencing what decisions it might make, and Nabonne said that if the bill really is meaningless, then there is no reason to pass it.

—- Problems with bill —-

House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, sponsor of the bill, plans to bring it up for debate today on the House floor. With the legislative session ending June 23, he said, the House needs to move the bill to the Senate right away to leave enough time for it to be considered there.

Six of the seven council members attended at least part of the committee’s 90-minute meeting, but only committee Chairwoman Hedge-Morrell, Clarkson and James Carter could vote on the committee’s resolution, which passed 3-0 after extensive last-minute rewriting.

Despite their votes, all three members expressed concern about aspects of the proposed airport transfer, such as the fact that New Orleans would be guaranteed only two of the nine seats on the new Southeast Regional Airport Authority.

“This is not in any way making a decision” about the airport’s fate, Clarkson said.

Tucker said Tuesday he will not seek legislative action this year on a separate bill that would have created the Global New Orleans Authority, an agency with both mayoral and gubernatorial appointees that would have controlled how the $500 million for the city was spent.

Mayor Ray Nagin said last week he does not support creation of the agency. Instead, he said, he favors letting the New Orleans Building Corp. handle the money. Tucker indicated he would agree to that.

Although House Bill 1272 never mentions the proposed new agency, the Building Corp. or even Armstrong Airport, the council committee voted to ask that the bill be amended “to provide that no actions of the New Orleans Building Corp. relative to disposition or transfer” of the airport would be valid without a two-thirds vote of the council.

Forman said he had no objection to such a requirement.

Willard-Lewis, a longtime member of the Building Corp. board, ridiculed the idea that the agency should be put in charge of spending hundreds of millions of dollars. She said the agency has spent years trying to get Lincoln Beach, the World Trade Center and other city-owned sites redeveloped, and “hasn’t been able to get anything done.”

Clarkson said Nagin has promised to reorganize the agency, and Forman said its board must be enlarged to include state as well as city representatives for the plan to win approval in Baton Rouge.

—- The original plan —-

Under the original plan, the bond dollars were to be invested in a sports and entertainment district around the Superdome and New Orleans Arena, the government complex around City Hall, the medical district where new LSU and Veterans Affairs hospitals are planned, the theater district at Canal and Rampart streets, and a $300 million plan for redeveloping idle east bank wharves proposed by the Building Corp.

The state, in turn, would make major improvements at the airport designed to expand its passenger and cargo traffic.

Jay Lapeyre, president of the New Orleans Business Council, told the City Council that the goal is to create “core competencies” that would create jobs and make New Orleans for the first time “globally competitive” in a few fields.

But Willard-Lewis said the suggested areas of investment would directly help only part of the city, with little benefit to her devastated district of eastern New Orleans and the Lower 9th Ward.

Tucker, who was not at the committee meeting, said the most critical issue facing the new authority would be to figure out how much the airport is worth. “Not everybody will be happy,” he said.

Tucker said Gov. Bobby Jindal supports the framework of his bill but has made no financial commitments and wants to see “a lot more detail about the plan.”

Kenner officials have opposed Tucker’s bill, expressing indignation that they were not consulted in drafting the legislation, even though 95 percent of the airport is within city limits.

Kenner City Council members said their chief concern is that the state would expropriate land to expand the airport, costing the city property and sales tax revenue from the lost homes and residents.

“Expropriation is a line in the sand,” City Councilman Joe Stagni said. “It’s a gut issue for the people of Kenner. We simply cannot surrender control over our land to an outside entity.”

. . . . . . .

Staff writers Robert Travis Scott and Paul Rioux contributed to this story.

Bruce Eggler can be reached at beggler@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3320.

Jun 4, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: Airport, Orleans Parish

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