Slidell Airport Project Praised in New Orleans

Slidell officials are lauding the new emergency operations center and terminal building at the Slidell Municipal Airport, saying the $1 million facility is designed to withstand the most severe weather conditions.

Mayor Ben Morris and airport Manager Bob Dunbar called the building state-of-the-art, noting that the striking glass and steel structure contains reinforcement crossbars and an angle-vaulted roof.

Though work at the facility will not be complete for another month, a conference room already has hosted a reception for the opening of the airport's $1.8 million runway and taxiway extension.

"Now we'll be able to handle planning, logistics and coordinate major storm rescue and recovery operations from a true emergency operations center instead of a building that wasn't designed for it," Dunbar said, referring to the Department of Public Operations headquarters on Bayou Lane, which served as the city's immediate emergency operations center in the early months after Hurricane Katrina.

The unique design and structure of the new center will allow the building to withstand winds up to 150 mph, said Howard Gammage, project superintendent for Mickey O'Connor General Contractor Inc. of Belle Chasse, which built the facility.

The design allows certain sections of the building to shift along with the swirling gusts of a major storm, or in response to underground vibrations from seismic activity, and then slide back into place.

The 5,000-square-foot facility includes office space, conference rooms, pilot briefing and weather monitor sections, a full-service kitchen, restrooms with showers, and a "war room" for emergency planning, communications and operations.

"This center is built to last; it's one of the finest such facilities I've seen," Morris said. "It's also an example of what I've said on numerous occasions in recent months -- that the city of Slidell has made greater recovery progress during the past year than any other community that took a direct hit from Katrina."

The airport was back in operation 24 hours after the storm hit and quickly became a major staging area for military and rescue operations in the area, Dunbar said.

Construction on the new facility was slated to begin in late August 2005, but Katrina pushed the start date back by two months. Fortunately, wind damage at the airport was limited and its high elevation kept flooding at bay.

Dunbar will have an office in the building, as will his assistant, both of whom currently are based in a nearby trailer. Slidell Aviation, the company that supplies fuel, maintenance, flight training and other services at the airport, also will have office space in the building.

During the past four years, Morris and Dunbar, with the City Council's support, have engaged in an aggressive lobbying campaign with federal and state aviation officials and the area's congressional delegation. That effort has paid off with about $8 million in mostly federal money for airport improvements.

In addition to the runway and taxiway extension, other improvements include new navigation lighting, which will allow the airport to handle 98 percent of all general aviation craft, including some previously restricted from landing, officials say.

Almost 100 planes are based at the general aviation facility, which is at the end of Airport Drive northwest of the city.

The airport has at least 20 buildings. Three are used by the city, one by the Civil Air Patrol and one by the National Weather Service. Others are leased to the parish mosquito control agency, which plans to build a new $3.5 million operations complex at the airport; Slidell Aviation; and private hangar facilities.

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