Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta
(center) inspects hurricane damage at
Southeast Texas Regional Airport (BPT).
|(Photo © 2005 AOPA)|
Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta said Friday that the Department of Transportation (DOT) would provide more than $16 million to help restore general aviation airports damaged in hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"These airports are all important because they're supporting the energy sectors of our economy," Mineta told AOPA in an exclusive interview. "They're the connections for people who need to come and go from this to do their jobs. They get engineers out to the oil rigs, and they provide offshore patrols for the nation's pipelines." The regional general aviation airports were also important staging areas for evacuation and relief flights.
Mineta, who is scheduled to speak at the November 3 General Session at AOPA Expo, told AOPA that the DOT would also request supplemental Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds from Congress for additional hurricane repair.
"I'm also going to request legislative language to allow us to use AIP funds to reimburse airports for damage done to terminals, to hangars, and to other facilities that would not normally be under the AIP program," Mineta said during the interview aboard N3, the FAA's Citation Excel.
( See video excerpts of the interview and Sec. Mineta's inspection tour.)
Mineta was returning from an inspection tour of two airports that had borne the full brunt of Rita's force, Lake Charles Regional (LCH) in Louisiana and Southeast Texas Regional (BPT) in Beaumont/Port Arthur, Texas.
"When Rita shifted course last Thursday, aiming her full fury at the Texas-Louisiana border, this airport became a lifeline," Mineta told airport staff and news media at BPT. Looking around at the battered remnants of the terminal and scattered medical supplies littering the floor, Mineta said, "Let me take a moment to thank the many employees here who helped airlift thousands of bedridden patients out of harm's way before the storm hit, and have worked tirelessly to get this airport back in operation."
Later aboard N3, Mineta said, "Think about these folks who live in these hurricane-impacted areas. They've lost their homes and they're not sure where their families are, and yet they're staying at the airport to make sure things get done.... We had FAA personnel, air traffic controllers, and technicians, people who stood by their posts, knowing that their families were having a hard time.
"We owe a great debt to these folks for their devotion to duty. And that story is told over and over again from these great tragedies of hurricanes Katrina and Rita."
Friday following the inspection tour, Secretary Mineta announced from Washington, D.C., that the DOT would grant Lake Charles Regional Airport almost $8 million to fund repairs to the terminal building and airport fire station, as well as to repair and replace runway signs. Southeast Texas Regional Airport will receive almost $6 million in federal support to repair the terminal and fire buildings, replace navigational equipment and lighting, repair damaged fire trucks, and replace runway signs.
Lakefront Airport (NEW) in New Orleans will receive over $2 million to repair a retaining wall, runways, and taxiways that were damaged when the airport was flooded after Hurricane Katrina. And Chennault International (CWF), also in Lake Charles, will receive over $36,000 to repair fencing that protects the airport's lighting equipment.
Mineta called the grants "down payments" and pledged his department would be a "full partner" with hurricane-stricken communities working to rebuild their transportation systems.
Updated: September 30, 2005, 3:45 p.m. EDT