City eyes funding for airport improvements
Officials are trying to get Port Aransas involved in a program that could bring hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of improvements to the airport, Mayor Keith McMullin said.
McMullin and City Manager Robert Bradshaw met in Austin last week to discuss airport operations with Texas General Land Office officials and the Texas Depart me nt of Transportation’s Aviation Division. “We reviewed the various short- and long-term needs,” McMullin said. “In the process, we discovered a potential recurring funding source that we are now working to acquire. It is a top priority.”
McMullin declined to name the specific program that’s being pursued. “I don’t want to jinx it or do anything that might somehow indirectly impair us,” the mayor said.
“Until we get further along in the process, it’s probably not appropriate to get into too much detail,” McMullin said. “When the timing is appropriate, we’ll certainly provide more information on the specifics.” If city officials are successful in getting the money, McMullin said, it could provide the city’s share in 90-10 airport improvement grants that the city might possibly obtain from TxDOT Aviation. The 90-10 term means that a grant coming from TxDOT would supply 90 percent of the funding for a project, while the city would pay for 10 percent.
The program in which the city is trying to get involved would supply federal money that could be in the six-figure range each year, McMullin said. If Port Aransas got such a large chunk of money and then used it to fund the city’s 10 percent share for a 90-10 grant project, it could mean big-time improvements for little Mustang Beach Airport.
McMullin cautioned that it’s not a sure thing that Port Aransas will be able to get itself involved in the program.
“But we’re certainly going to do everything we can,” he said. “The funding is significant. It would help us do any number of improvements at the airport for years to come.”
The city is in the midst of prioritizing shortterm, mid-term and long-term objectives for airport improvements.
The city’s Airport Advisory Board is expected to meet within the next 30 to 45 days to review improvement plans with a representative from TxDOT Aviation. The board will take a new look at what priorities should exist for the airport, McMullin said.
Current short-term priorities include repair and replacement of lighting along the runway, installation of security fences and maintenance on the runway, like sealing cracks in the pavement, McMullin said. Those priorities could change after the upcoming airport board meeting, but they also might not, he said.
Long-term goals have included construction of additional hangars and extending the taxi way. Still unknown is how Port Aransas might use 27 acres of land that the city acquired for the airport only in recent months.
The 27 acres was added in a new lease agreement made late last year between the City of Port Aransas and the Texas General Land Office. The new acreage stretches from the current airport property to the area of Sharkey’s Beach Club and abuts State Hwy. 361.
The new lease also provides the city new freedoms to allow commercial enterprises to set up shop at the airport.
In April, the city council voted to reject a proposal for a public-private airport development partnership between the city and Texas Aviation Partners, an Austin firm. The 6-0 vote also meant a halt to negotiations with the company.
McMullin said he doesn’t think it’s likely that the city will enter into an agreement to let a private firm run the airport.
“It comes down to control,” McMullin said. “… We just want to maintain our own destiny.”
At some point in the future, the city could sublease some of the new 27 acres for use by a commercial enterprise such as a restaurant or hotel, McMullin said. Income from the sublease would be used to benefit the airport, he said.
The GLO would have to approve of any such business arrangement, but the agency is OK with the general concept, McMullin said.
Long-term goals could include extending the 3,500-foot runway as much as 600 feet, McMullin said. That’s short of the 5,000-foot length that’s a magic number for bringing in more private jets than the present runway can accommodate.
Due to the presence of wetlands, there’s not enough room to extend the runway to 5,000 feet, but that’s “not catastrophic,” McMullin said.
McMullin said he’s optimistic about getting grant money for the airport.
“The GLO and TxDOT Aviation remain very supportive of the City of Port Aransas and Mustang Beach Airport and are ready, willing and able to assist,” the mayor said.