The Woodlands Township board of directors has reversed its decision to help pay for a $2.4 million federal customs facility at the Lone Star Executive Airport in Conroe.
In June, the township board agreed to contribute $600,000 toward a new customs facility planned to open in the first quarter of 2015 at LSEA. However, the board opted to rescind the funding after concerns were raised about whether the township should fund the project.
"When I talked to residents of our community, I couldn't find one that was openly supportive of a $600,000 investment in a federal customs facility outside of our community," Township Director Gordy Bunch said.
Bunch said the township was not included in the early discussions for the concept of a potential customs facility and that it was only approached for funding by airport representatives after the project was well underway.
"If they would have come to us when they started planning it, it might have been a different story," he said. "But they didn't."
Despite the township backing out of its decision to fund the facility, the $2.4 million project is moving forward.
LSEA Executive Director Scott Smith said the design of the customs facility at the airport is nearly complete, and construction could start in the early part of next year, with a December 2015 opening.
Black Forest Ventures, which owns Galaxy FBO, the potential site of the customs facility, is contributing $600,000, and the city of Conroe and Montgomery County are considering their funding commitments, Smith said.
In its proposal to the township board, airport representatives stated the benefits of having a customs facility in Conroe.
"Having a high quality executive airport, with full services, is important for business retention and attraction of major corporate facilities and headquarters," the letter said.
In an informal poll of Woodlands-based businesses, LSEA representatives identified 38 companies that operate internationally and could potentially use or do use private aircraft.
"Some of these companies currently base their aircraft at [LSEA], while other companies base their aircraft at other airports greater distances from The Woodlands Township," the report said.
However, Bunch said he believes The Woodlands has enjoyed a strong business climate and corporate relocation without the use of a customs facility at LSEA.
"The Woodlands is projected to be built out in five years," he said. "Will [the customs facility] be used by some corporation in our community? That is yet to be known. If they do use it, they are already here. I'm not sure if it's an economic driver. We don't have a problem with attracting [businesses]."
Township chairman Bruce Tough said that there was a vocal opposition from area residents to the township entering into the agreement with LSEA but also support from the business community.
"We had allocated a budget amount to fund it, and there was interest from the business community," he said. "But a lot of times the business community is very silent on issues—they go about their business and pay their taxes, and you don't hear vocal support or opposition from them."
Tough said he believed if the business community were more vocal in their support of a facility at LSEA, the township may have funded the project.
"I felt like it was a good idea to participate, and I still think it is a good idea to participate," Tough said. "The Woodlands should be a supportive partner. We are always looking for better infrastructure and better growth, and we should also participate in county projects as a partner."