The Mena Airport.


"Mena tires of rumors"
By  Michael Haddigan
THE ARKANSAS GAZETTE 
June 28, 1988

MENA  Tucked into a corner of the Ouachita Mountains in western
Arkansas, Mena was once known primarily for the beauty of its
surroundings.

              Then Barry Seal came to town.

        Seal, who authorities believe was one of the most successful
cocaine smugglers in the United States, first began appearing at
Mena's Intermountain Regional Airport in 1981 for repairs and
maintenance on his small fleet of planes.
      By the time he died in a storm of machine gun fire at Baton Rouge
in February 1986, a considerable body of lore surrounded him and his
activities in Mena. Rumors and tales have survived him and many in
Mena are tired of hearing about what Seal may or may not have done in
their town.

              But Seal cast a long shadow.

    "They continually bring it up before Grand Jury after Grand Jury
and they have found that there is nothing there," Mayor Jerry
Montgomery said last week. "I wish one way or another that it would
be resolved."
       Rudy Furr, the airport manager, said all the attention is giving
the city a bad name. "Quite honestly, I am tired of it," he said.
"The community has gotten a black eye for it."
        Two congressional committees, the General Accounting Office, the
FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue
Service and the Arkansas State Police are now examining allegations
that Seal flew guns to the Nicaraguan contras and smuggled cocaine on
return trips.
       Investigators said they also will be looking into Seal's
activities and associations at the Mena airport.
       Furr said he believes the airport is still under surveillance by
authorities. "For heaven's sake, the man has been dead for two
years," he said.
       The airport is now one of the largest aircraft refurbishing
centers in the United States. Along with the poultry industry, a cut
and sew operation, an electric motors plant and the timber industry,
the airport is one of the major employers in Polk County.
        Furr said the 19 businesses at the airport employ 325 people
and do more than $2.2 million in business each year. Planes from
all over the world come to the airport, Furr said, for refitting,
engine repair, maintenance, interior upholstering and wood work and
painting.
        "There are probably aircraft from Africa, Asia and Central and
South America on the airport right now," he said.
          But why do they come to Mena? The city has a population of just
over 5,000 and its remote location doesn't make one think of it as a
logical place for a major airplane service center.
         "Our success story is very competitive prices, a quality product
and the fastest turn-around time in the industry," Furr said.
         Since Mena isn't in a congested area, planes can come in and out
easier and labor costs are less than in metropolitan areas. The
operations at the airport started small and one thing just built on
another, Furr and others said.

              New runway planned

        Mayor Montgomery said that when a planned $5 million airport
improvement project is complete sales at the airport will skyrocket.
The improvements will include a 6,000-foot east-west runway that can
 accommodate larger jet aircraft.
        The airport, he said, is sandwiched between Rich Mountain, the
 highest point in the Ouachitas, and two other mountains to the north
 and a 2,220-foot mountain to the south. The existing north- south
 runway, he said, makes takeoffs and landings difficult.
         Part of the improvement project will be a 4,000-foot grass
 "tactical runway" that the city will offer to the military for
 practice runs by C-130s and other cargo planes.
         In October 1987, the Mena airport was used as the headquarters
 for Army anti-aircraft units taking part in Air Force exercises.
 Army Major Frank Theissing, public affairs officer at Fort Chaffee,
 said there will likely be more exercises at the airport in the
 future.
         "The people of Mena have let it be known that we would be
 welcome," he said.

              Seal affair hurts business

      But Montgomery said the Barry Seal affair has hurt business at
the airport. "It has stymied the potential growth out there," he
said. "At least it has slowed it down."
      Furr said industrial prospects frequently ask about Seal during
tours of the airport. Montgomery said one "well known national
company" recently reconsidered a decision to locate at Mena because
of the notoriety Seal earned for the airport.
      And Fred L. Hampton of Rich Mountain Aviation, where much of the
attention has been focused, said the Barry Seal affair has prevented
him from expanding his business.
      Furr blames local law enforcement officers for perpetuating the Seal
allegations. Furr said the Seal affair was one of the reasons why he
ran for sheriff against A. L. Hadaway in 1984. "He beat me fair and
square," Furr said.
       Hadaway, who now runs High Performance Aircraft Engines, Inc.,
near the airport, ended nearly 20 years in law enforcement when he
resigned in July 1986. Hadaway, former president of the Arkansas
Sheriff's Association, cited disagreements with the Quorum Court as
his reason for resigning.
         But, he said, Barry Seal also had something to do with it.
        "I can arrest an old hillbilly out here with a pound of marijuana
and a local judge and jury would send him to the penitentiary,"
Hadaway said. "But a guy like Seal flies in and out with hundreds of
pounds of cocaine and he stays free."
              Last of a series.

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