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Runway project: FAA priority but ‘not a sure thing’

Riedesel project engineer John Watson (right) talks with meeting participant Bob Fogarty at last Tuesday’s March 17 public information event at the Idaho County Commission meeting room.

Photo by David Rauzi
Riedesel project engineer John Watson (right) talks with meeting participant Bob Fogarty at last Tuesday’s March 17 public information event at the Idaho County Commission meeting room.

GRANGEVILLE – Final design plans on the proposed $8 million Idaho County Airport runway reconstruction project await Federal Aviation Administration approval, likely within the week. And then there’s just securing the funding.

“The FAA says this is a top priority, but it’s not a sure thing,” said John Watson, project engineer with Riedesel Engineering. The FAA normally doesn’t provide such funding to airports of this size, and Idaho County will be competing with similar projects across the nation for funding. As well, funding will depend on appropriations made available by Congress.

“They are supportive of the project, and we feel it will be funded,” Watson said.

Federal funds will pay for 90 percent of the work, with the remainder to be met by the county and state. The project is estimated to take approximately four months, tentatively starting July 6 and running through October, during which the runway will be closed to fixed-wing aircraft. Helicopters would continue to use the airport; and public agencies are relocating equipment to other fields, such as the Forest Service that plans to disburse firefighting aircraft to Cottonwood and Lewiston.

A federal funding award is expected in June or July; however, if this is made much later, the project would be moved forward to 2016 due to the seasonably dependent construction window.

Watson, along with Idaho County Airport manager Mike Cook and Idaho County Commission Chair Jim Chmelik, spoke to a light attendance of five attendees at an information meeting last Tuesday, March 17, at the Idaho County Courthouse. As proposed, the project calls for reconstructing the 5,100-foot-long runway north and east of its present location to provide sufficient spacing, as per FAA regulations, from the taxiway as well as adjacent Day Road. An estimated 13,000 feet of drainage pipe will also be installed to address runway breakup issues due to freeze-thaw cycles in the underlying clay.

“It’s definitely been an issue with low-slung air attack aircraft,” said Cook, referring to loose asphalt chunks along the airport runway. Employees patrol the runway to clear debris, especially during the busy summer season, and they apply cement patches. But it’s reached a point, he continued, where the runway has approximately 180 cracks: 100 of these go clear across the runway with some being four to six inches wide.

Watson said old asphalt will be pulverized and placed on the runway shoulders to provide for easier maintenance and improve light visibility.

Among the other proposed changes include installation of new medium-intensity lighting, and also a reduction of connectors from the taxiway to runway. On this last, those connectors will be offset and so not provide a direct shot from the apron, according to Watson, due to FAA concerns for aircraft safety.

“We know it won’t be popular,” he said, “but it is what it is.”

Cook added plans are for follow-up taxiway work in 2016 that, if approved by the FAA, would be handled in phases to keep traffic open for fixed-wing aircraft.

Meeting attendee Gary Lazenby of Harpster asked, with the amount of back country air traffic in the region, would the airport be considering a designated grass strip for traffic. Watson said such a strip would not be recognized by FAA due to insufficient spacing and an inadequate amount of available land to designate for such a strip.

Another question regarding whether there would be discretion in accepting project bids or if officials were locked to accept the lowest offer? Watson said if the low bid met project specifications they would be hard-pressed not to select it, unless there were a justifiable reason to do so.

“This is the only asset the county has, and it does make the county money,” said Commissioner Chmelik, who complimented cook and former Commissioner James Rockwell on their vision to revitalize the facility. Private enterprise efforts, such as expansion by Anderson Aeromotive, could be complemented with other aviation-related manufacturing businesses locating to the facility. He hopes to see improvements to the airport within the next 10 years to generate revenue as well as jobs for Grangeville and the county.

Jurisdictions to see impacts of airport project

A side note to the airport project, Watson said a portable hot mix asphalt plant would be brought into the area for the duration that public jurisdictions such as the City of Grangeville and Grangeville Highway District, and Idaho Forest Group could utilize as well. Interviewed last week, representatives for these entities commented they would be doing some minor projects that would welcome having close plant access.

“We’re always glad to have a hot plant local,” said Jeff McFrederick, Grangeville public works director. “It saves us about 30 percent in costs because we don’t have to haul it,” and this will help his department prepare for an upcoming chip seal project.

For the Grangeville Highway District, it will utilize the plant for some asphalt maintenance and repair projects, but the uncertainty of federal SRS (Secure Rural Schools) funding means it will not be planning on needed work, such as renovation of Mountain View Road.

“We’ve been trying to redo that road for the last couple of years,” said district foreman Matt Holman. “We’d be looking at that now if SRS funding hadn’t fallen through,” as the district doesn’t have the $200,000 “on the low end” to do the work.

For the district, which is responsible for approximately 120 miles of road, its perspective on the airport project is how work to improve the runway may negatively impact its roadways.

“If the airport project goes through, our biggest concern is how will are our roads going to hold up?” Holman said. With his estimates, around 80,000 tons of material will be hauled in for the project, a significant amount of heavy truck traffic going across district roads. The district’s concern it will be monitoring is, “if our roads start to fail, how much is it going to cost us to rebuild our roads?”


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