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“YOU ARE PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE…”
The months-long process of projecting future upgrades to the Cotulla – La Salle County Airport reached a vital stage in February with the completion of a master plan, jointly presented to the city council by airport manager ET Page and consultant Chandra Burks.
In a Zoom presentation at the February council meeting, Page and Burks showed that while upgrades to the airport have been continual over the past two decades, the new master plan compiled by Coffman & Associates lays out considerable changes, among which is the possible relocation of the runway.
Cotulla’s present runway stretches over 6,000 feet and can accommodate commercial jetliners, but Page and Burks have both indicated that full-size jets and cargo aircraft may use the airport in La Salle County if the runway were extended to at least 7,000 feet.
The difficulty in fitting a runway of that size onto the airport property is exacerbated by boundary lines to the southeast and northwest, where Hwy 97 and IH-35 lie close to the immediate landing and take-off flight path. Page said in a meeting last year when drafting the master plan that he believes a new runway could be built.
That construction, according to both Page and Burks, lies on the map parallel and to the north of the existing runway.
Burks was quick to note in her presentation to councilors that the master plan stretches as much as 20 years into the future and will be contingent upon both need and funding, much of which may come from the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) Aviation Division.
Page said an airport’s need for upgraded facilities falls directly in line with the community’s expansion and the facility’s capability of boosting the economy.
The Cotulla City Council has already approved asking Texas District 21 Senator Judith Zaffirini to draft legislation that will push for a trade zone designation for the airport, thereby giving tax breaks to cargo handlers landing and warehousing international shipments at Cotulla. Defraying the taxes, Page said, makes Cotulla an attractive site for developers, freight handlers, warehouse businesses and trucking. That, in turn, he said, will immediately impact the local economy.
Page and Burks are joined by Cotulla City Administrator Larry Dovalina in promoting the Cotulla – La Salle County Airport as an alternate landing site for Laredo-bound passenger and cargo aircraft. Dovalina said last month that Laredo’s propensity for fog and other weather-related delays makes Cotulla a practical choice because of its proximity to the interstate.
Burks noted in her presentation that while the city of Cotulla and the county of La Salle may benefit from each of the stages laid out in the upgrade plan over the next twenty years, neither should consider itself committed to a timeline or financial obligation to immediate development within the next budget cycle.
“There is no guarantee that TxDOT or the Federal Aviation Administration will approve this,” Burks said of the airport improvements that also include expanded aircraft parking areas, hangars, taxiways and wider runway access ramps. “Having a master plan allows an airport to apply for the funds.”
Page reiterated that applications for funding have a greater likelihood of acceptance and approval when they are shown to be part of a long-term plan, drafted and approved by local authorities, with a view to improving the economy and benefiting the community.
“This does not mean changes will happen,” Burks said. “You are planning for the future.”
The consultant added that because of the ‘land-locked’ position of the present runway, any plans to relocate and extend the strip can only see fruition when city and county governments work cohesively to push for the upgrade. Similar cooperation, she said, will be vital for maintenance of appropriate height zones and related restrictions, leaving airspace open for aircraft at either end of today’s runway. Adopting and enforcing an ordinance limiting construction of any obstacles to a safe flight path, she said, will be the responsibility of the local government.
“Then you will develop a capital improvement plan, stage the projects in the short- and long-term,” Burks said. “It is based on need, and safety and maintenance would get the higher priority.” She added that because of changes in demand, including an acceleration of need for additional facilities, local authorities should view the master plan as fluid and capable of re-evaluation each year.
Federal and state funding, Burks and Page have noted, includes the availability of $11.2 million for the first stage of the airport expansion, followed by at least $15.8 million of an estimated $18.4 million for property acquisition that leads to construction of the new runway.
A 7,000-foot runway, she said, may cost at least $43.6 million.
“Just because something is in the plan does not obligate anyone to fund it,” the consultant told the council.
The airport plan now goes to the Federal Aviation Administration for review, a stage which Page describes as “completing the study.”
Burks said she believes Cotulla and La Salle County may be eligible for at least $65 million over the 20 years of the master plan whose cost estimates range over $75 million.
“This is a very thorough report,” Page said of the document prepared by Burks at Coffman & Associates. “We can’t do anything without it.”