After 50 years of neglect, Scholes Field gets new life via economic development
By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
GALVESTON, TX - An old joke among general aviation airport managers is that one either repaves the pavement or mows it more often. At Scholes International Airport here, lawn mowers have ruled for decades when it came to pavement maintenance. No more. With a new political climate and an emphasis on economic growth across this island city some 50 miles south of Houston, the airport is undergoing a revitalization that will soon kick into high gear, following enactment of a tax increment reinvestment zone that is projected to generate some $12-15 million for the airfield over the next 30 years.
The obstacles facing
airport management at Galveston go beyond the stereotypical lack of support
from the community. They include being blackballed by the Federal Aviation
Administration and the Texas Department of Transportation, which operates
under the block grant program, for infrastructure development. The reason:
The city failed to live up to a commitment to match Airport Improvement
Program funds, losing an FAA grant and essentially leaving the airport
in limbo on any initiative to rebuild the airfield. Even worse, it brought
on an audit by the U.S. DOT Inspector General's office. In turn, that
led to documentation that the city was failing to pay rent on facilities
it was utilizing at the airport. In other words, revenue diversion.
All that, as they say, is water under the bridge. Today, Scholes Inter-national is on its way to becoming a first-class business airport, which considering its level of business-related activity is perhaps where it should have been all along.
For despite the lack of infrastructure development and maintenance through the years, Scholes Field has maintained an impressive level of business activity, spurred primarily by oil patch operations in the Gulf of Mexico.
At the same time, the politics of Galveston have changed significantly in recent years, as the local populace has sought to reinvigorate the economy which for a long time had been somewhat stagnant. It is, in retrospect, an extension of the economic growth that has been occurring throughout South Texas over the past two decades.
A History of Activity
Despite the lack of infrastructure development at this airport for some 50 years, its proximity to the oil rigs in the Gulf along with its location on an island that carries with it much history has kept the field somewhat vibrant in spite of political winds that often failed to appreciate the role the airport played in the local economy.
According to airport
director Hud Hopkins, who arrived here in 1994 fresh out of Texas A&M
University, seven offshore oil companies are based at Scholes Field, with
some 50 based helicopters and more than 200 fixed wing aircraft. In all,
the airport handles some 104,000 operations annually.
Says Hopkins, "We're turning and burning with helicopters out here. We have everything from a 206 to F91s." He estimates that between 70 and 80 percent of all operations are helicopter related, serving the rigs that drill for oil and gas offshore.
Yet, Hopkins points out that minimal attention was paid to maintaining the airfield since the late 1940s, primarily due to the political climate that saw little need to invest in the airport. However, in the mid-1990s, the political winds began to change for the community as a whole, as new economic development initiatives began to take hold.
Since becoming director, Hopkins has focused on educating the city, which owns and operates the airport with the assistance of an advisory committee, and community groups about the value of the airport. Along with the matching funds debacle and subsequent DOT Inspector General's audit (see sidebar), the city has come to recognize the role the airport plays in ongoing business activity on the island.
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