Jan. 25--Edinburg has plans for its airport's runway that is two miles long and 13 inches deep.
As part of its attempt to convert the quiet airport on the outskirts of town into a regional center for air cargo operations, the city wants to double the size of the existing track while reinforcing it with more than a foot of concrete.
The improvements would make it the longest and sturdiest runway in the Rio Grande Valley, fortifying it to allow the largest planes to easily land and drawing companies in to use the airport as a base for shipping operations.
But the city's grand plans for its airport will cost a lot of money.
The expansion to the runway alone is projected at $50 million. And that cost is only a fraction of the $234-million master plan for the airport that the city approved last year.
To raise funds for the airport and other projects, the city became one of the first in the Valley to retain the services of a Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist.
The lobbyist will help the city navigate the fast-paced nature of the nation's capital where deadlines for grant applications seemingly close right after they open, said Edinburg mayor Richard Garcia. By hiring the lobbyist, the city joins other governmental entities in Washington that are fighting for a piece of the federal pie.
"If we're going to compete," the mayor said, "we've got to play the game."
Large sums of federal dollars are available each year. But the windows to take advantage of them are often small.
Keeping up with the myriad of funding opportunities from the federal government requires someone with experience in the arena, Garcia said. A lobbyist can act as the city's face in Washington while helping department heads and elected officials find ways to take advantage of federal programs.
For the task, the city selected the firm of Stinson Morrison Hecker out of several that responded to the city's request for legislative assistance.
The city will pay the firm $10,000 per month -- plus pre-approved business expenses -- over the one-year contract that began Jan. 1.
The contract calls for the firm to keep the city aware of pending bills that might impact it; advocate or oppose legislation on behalf of the city; and lobby on behalf of the city to state and federal agencies for the development and funding of its projects.
D.C.-based law and consulting firms regularly contract with governmental entities to assist in addressing issues that are pending before Congress and the executive branch, said H.R. Bert Pena, a Mission native who is a partner on Stinson Morrison Hecker's federal affairs team.
Pena, who is not related to state Rep. Aaron Pena, D-Edinburg, has cobbled together 33 years of experience in Washington since he took a job offer in the capital from former U.S. Rep. Kika de la Garza.
In his first few weeks as Edinburg's representative, Pena has conducted teleconferences with city officials to learn about pending projects they know about and identify other areas where he can help the city in Washington.
Pena said he'll work closely with U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, whose district encompasses the city, and members of the Texas Congressional delegation to advocate for the city's interests.
"Each municipality, county and state is smart to keep an eye on (Washington D.C.)," he said. "You have to be observant of how Congress is dealing with certain key issues."
The city would like to secure grants for its downtown revitalization or its wastewater treatment plant. Legislation is regularly filed that would affect trade, transportation and other issues that the city has an interest in.
But a priority for Pena's firm is to identify ways the city can gain federal investments in South Texas International Airport at Edinburg, said City Manager Ramiro Garza.
The 520-acre Edinburg International Airport is being touted by city leaders as a future player in the Rio Grande Valley's air cargo industry.
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