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“IT HAS BEEN ONE OF OUR GOALS TO BE AN AIRPORT OF ENTRY…”
Cotulla city councilors have voted unanimously in support of proposed legislation that may help generate revenues and boost the local economy through creation of a foreign trade zone at the local airport.
Filed for this year’s Texas Legislature by Dist. 21 Senator Judith Zaffirini, the designation will allow the city of Cotulla to apply for special tax breaks to commercial carriers who bring foreign imports to Cotulla for warehousing and later distribution.
Effectively, those carriers will not be taxed on their goods while they are in transition through the Cotulla – La Salle County Airport or temporarily warehoused on adjoining properties within the zone. Taxes are paid when the goods are forwarded or sold beyond their transition point.
According to Cotulla City Administrator Larry Dovalina, the plan is attractive to Cotulla because it will encourage commercial development at the airport.
The Cotulla – La Salle County Airport was established as an airstrip in 1947 and used occasionally for military training purposes but quickly attracted private flights. Although it has lost one of its original runways, the airport has been substantially modernized in the past 50 years, and within the past decade has gained runway extensions beyond 6,000 feet, allowing it to accommodate modern jet airliners.
During the 1990s, the airport annually hosted a number of flights of Canadian Air Force Twin Otter aircraft and crews chartered by the state of Texas to drop rabies vaccines over South Texas, helping eliminate the disease in the region before the vaccine-drop zone was moved elsewhere.
At the same time, hangars were extended, parking areas improved, and plans laid for further modernization through grants offered by the Texas Department of Transportation Aviation Division. One such grant helped with runway, taxiway and parking extensions. Those improvements were matched two years ago with construction of a new airport terminal.
The building’s opening was celebrated in December 2021 with Sen. Zaffirini joining city and county elected officials. The following summer, airport manager ET Page hosted a public event at which long-term goals for the facility were made public for the first time. Among them were further runway extensions and parking spaces for larger aircraft. Much of the development was based on the airport now being ranked as the largest between Laredo and San Antonio.
The facility was named Airport of the Year by the state transportation agency in 2016.
City Administrator Larry Dovalina told councilors at a recent meeting that he believes the airport at Cotulla will soon attract commercial development because of overcrowding at Laredo, the availability of property ready for development, and easy access to the IH-35 corridor by road freight.
The Cotulla truck bypass loop, named after former La Salle County Judge Joel Rodriguez, opened in late 2020, diverting heavy freight from the city’s downtown area and simultaneously opening previously inaccessible real estate between the airport and the interstate.
“This is an effort to create jobs,” Dovalina told the council on Thursday, January 12, introducing the trade zone application. “It creates an area where people can bring products from Mexico, warehouse them, and not pay taxes until the products are sold and shipped out.”
Employment based on the trade zone, according to the city administrator, may include warehouse staff, drivers, and customs officers. Revenues to the city may be derived from permits and other fees, he said, and local retail businesses and travel centers would benefit from additional customers.
“This is a way to bring in new jobs other than the oilfield,” Mayor Javier Garcia said. “It’s a good opportunity for our citizens.”
The move to support Sen. Zaffirini’s proposed legislation was made by Councilor Tanis Lopez, seconded by Councilor Manuel Rodriguez and supported by Councilors Alejandro Garcia Jr., Eloy Zertuche and Gilbert Ayala.
First established nearly 90 years ago by the federal government, foreign trade zones are compared to free trade zones in their effort at encouraging commercial business into and out of the United States. They are generally positioned at or near a US port of entry. In the case of Cotulla and its potentially lucrative airport and nearby real estate, the development marks a significant step towards promoting business development connected to the truck bypass loop, according to Airport Manager ET Page.
“Primarily, the designation would be a direct help for us, because it will allow foreign flights to come into Cotulla,” Page said this week. “These would mostly be cargo flights, but it is business nonetheless. It has been one of our goals to be designated an FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] airport of entry.
“There would be quite a few of these flights,” Page said, “especially if Cotulla becomes the relief airport for Laredo, which is sometimes forced to close due to fog.”
The Cotulla – La Salle County Airport has already begun receiving cargo flights using the site as an alternate to Laredo, Page said, but all have been from within the continental 48 states.
“I’m excited about the potential,” Page said of the Foreign Trade Zone designation. “This ties in directly with our community’s economic development plans.”