Three Hurricane-Hit Airports to Share $7.2M in Repair Funds

Hurricane Katrina bashed Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, rendering key facilities unusable and setting back the terminal expansion project.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Wednesday it would help out that airport, as well as two others in South Mississippi, to the tune of $7.2 million combined for storm-related repairs.

Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport will receive $4.7 million. Stennis International Airport in Hancock County will get $2.1 million, and Wiggins' Dean Griffin Memorial Airport will get $450,000.

Gulfport-Biloxi Airport was in the middle of a $50 million expansion and renovation project when Katrina hit Aug. 29. Some of the money will be used to fix damage to the terminal expansion, but some actually just accelerates the plans.

The cargo and general aviation facilities were damaged beyond repair, but blueprints for new ones already were on the boards.

"All of this was planned, but it was going to happen later on," said Jim Pitts, director of cargo planning. "The fact that we lost the facilities, we're just going to go ahead and start the new facilities earlier."

The rental car facility was blown away, and the south end of the terminal, where most of the expansion work was taking place, took a big blow. Metal-stud wall framing twisted, masonry walls toppled, roofing ripped away, glass skylights cracked and electrical circuitry was saturated.

Gates 5 and 6 were out of commission for more than two months, forcing such work-arounds as AirTran using Northwest Airlines gates.

The terminal expansion's completion-date estimate has been pushed back two months, to August 2006.

Pitts said air traffic is returning and when American Eagle begins two regional jet flights a day to Dallas, the airport will be back to 90 percent of the pre-Katrina seats. Additional flights are likely dependent on the return of casinos.

Dean Griffin Memorial Airport, which is operated jointly by Wiggins and Stone County and caters mainly to private aviation, lost its hangar in Katrina and had no insurance to cover replacement. Its share of Wednesday's windfall will be used to build a new hangar, including an office.

Mayor Jerry Alexander said officials are also working on acquiring more land to lengthen the runway and a grant to improve the lighting.

Stennis International will use its money on repairs to buildings and fencing, as well as taxiways reconstruction and lighting replacement.

The funds came from the Federal Aviation Administration, which had previously given $2.7 million to Gulfport-Biloxi for signs, lighting and runway apron rehabilitation and $1.3 million for similar repairs and safety vehicle and building repairs after Katrina hit.

"The economic revival of the Gulf Coast will hinge in large part on the resumption of air service," Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said.

Airport Emergency Funding

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Wednesday three local airports will receive $7.2 million for repairs:

Airport Location Funds
Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport Gulfport $4.7 million
Stennis International Airport Hancock County $2.1 million
Dean Griffin Memorial Airport Wiggins $450,000

Biloxi Sun Herald

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