Victoria County arranges temporary control tower funding

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

April 4, 2013 at 5 p.m.
Updated April 4, 2013 at 11:05 p.m.

State funding will keep Victoria's air traffic control tower open for the next 90 days, but after that, the county could be on its own.

Airport managers and officials representing Texas' 13 control towers, which were axed from the federal budget, met with the Texas Transportation Commission on Thursday morning to hash out a plan to keep the towers open with temporary funding.

The Federal Aviation Administration cut funding to 149 control towers across the U.S. from its budget with the intent to start closing them April 1. Victoria was set to lose its federal funding April 21.

However, safety concerns and the towers' economic impacts fueled many states, including Texas, to find a solution without the federal government's help.

County Judge Don Pozzi and Airport Manager Jason Milewski represented Victoria at the Austin meeting with a letter of support from Rep. Geanie Morrison.

"It is our hope Washington will see the light and pick up the funding," Pozzi said. "Although this is temporary, I certainly get the impression that if the feds continue to drop the ball, ... the state will continue to move forward."

The state funding will cover 90 percent of each tower's cost up to $222,000 for the 90-day period. The remaining 10 percent for Victoria will come from the county budget.

Victoria County Commissioners are expected to vote Monday whether to accept a bid from ClearedDirect LLC. to manage the air traffic control tower at Victoria Regional Airport, as well as vote on the memorandum of understanding with Texas Department of Transportation.

ClearedDirect, owned by Milewski, was the only company to submit a bid. It estimated it would cost $32,000 monthly to run the tower, including controllers' salaries and insurance.

Pozzi said the county will pay the money up-front and be reimbursed from the state after turning in receipts.

Milewski said the plan is to have four controllers staff the tower.

"It is my intention to keep everything as local as possible," he said.

The bid proposed reducing the tower's operations to 8 a.m.-9 p.m. during the week and keeping the tower closed on weekends. Under the federal contract, the tower was open 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.

"That will continually be looked at by the county," Milewski said. "If we need to open on weekends, we will. We'll monitor it for demand and make adjustments accordingly."

Pozzi said the controllers will be employees of ClearedDirect, not the county.

ClearedDirect will manage the tower operation just like Robinson Aviation did under the federal contract, Pozzi said.

Milewski said he is pleased with the outcome.

"We are very glad and proud to live in a state that has chosen to take on the responsibility that Washington dropped," he said.

Morrison's letter echoed support for funding the towers.

Not only would closing the tower effect military operations from San Antonio and Corpus Christi, but it would also reduce existing business activities and the community's efforts for economic growth.

Most importantly, the tower closure would put lives in the air and on the ground at stake, Morrison wrote.

Pozzi said he is pleased and appreciative of the governor's office and the TxDOT commission for stepping up and undertaking the funding of these towers

"They recognize the importance of the safety issues and the economic development issues that go along with it," he said.



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