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BOC to Take Up Airport ‘Next Steps’

What to Do When State-Funded Runway Repair is Inadequate?


HARRISON – One item discussed at the Clare County Board of Commissioners’ June 7 Committee of the Whole meeting was the runway at Clare County Airport 80D. Administrator Lori Phelps and Commissioner Gabe Ambrozaitis laid out what had previously been approved, as well as what had been done, and the need to determine what is yet to be done.

Phelps explained that the state came a year ago to measure for crack sealing of the runway. She said it fell to the state to secure the contractor and that Clare County was given close to $9,000 in grant funds, with the county to pay the balance of the cost. She said the state had come in the previous week to do the work – and ran out of the crack sealing material.

“Probably a little less than half-way through,” Phelps said. “And said, ‘There you go, we’re done, that’s all you get, contract’s fulfilled.’ So, here we are with a half-done airport.”

Phelps said she had contacted the state to learn exactly what material was used, and that Dewayne Rodgers, Clare County Road Commission manager, had been approached about securing those materials and fixing the balance of the runway.

“Some of the cracks are 6 inches wide,” she said, and then turned over the discussion to Rodgers and Commissioner Gabe Ambrozaitis, chair of the Clare County Airport Committee.

Ambrozaitis began by explaining that the contract with the state called for a Mastic I, a product only used on runways – not the same Crack Seal used on roads.

“Not only is it different because it has aggregate,” he said. “That mastic can only be applied with a specific sealer machine [which would have to be rented]. The road commission has the machine that works on roads, so we would have to buy the materials and rent the machine. We’ve yet to discuss with the road commission whether or not they would provide manpower to apply that.”

He went on to reiterate that half the runway was done, and that it had also been done five years prior, thus it had lasted that long.

“As I discussed with the road commission, we’re going to put a Band-Aid on it until we can put the correct Band-Aid on,” Ambrozaitis said. “We didn’t put it on correctly. The longitudinal lines, that basically go up and down the runway, are not completed. They did the lateral cracks [which causes the bumps when an aircraft lands], but if the wheel gets into that longitudinal crack, you could turn a landing gear. So, you would have an aircraft that’s damaged on the runway – which is not a good thing.”

Ambrozaitis said the amount of materials believed necessary to purchase would cost about $10,000 aside from any labor charge.

“That’s the discussion,” he said. “Do we move forward to get to that point that at least buys us five years’ worth of time to figure how and what we’re going to do with that airport?”

He said that is being worked on in the Airport Committee and reminded of the committee’s work with the Bureau of Aeronautics and the hoped-for BOA runway assessment.

“I don’t know what they did the last time, because they didn’t assess the cracks properly and get the correct amount of materials,” Ambrozaitis said. “So, we’ll just have to see where they go with that.”

Commissioner Jeff Haskell clarified that the county would be looking at $10,000 plus labor with the possibility of that labor being provided by the road commission. When asked by Ambrozaitis if that is something the CCRC would be willing to consider, Rodgers [who had taken a runway tour with Ambrozaitis] replied that he had spoken with “a guy he knew” the previous evening.

“Based on the runway, estimating what’s done and not done, you needed another 12,500 pounds/five pallets,” Rodgers said. “He [the guy] said it’s about 70-cents a pound, so you’re looking at about $8,000 for the rubber, and to rent the machine for a week was roughly $2,000 – and then he would show us how to do it. It’s a little bit different than what we’ve ever done.”

Rodgers said he was unsure about road commission labor cost, as it would still need to be figured out. He suggested the possibility of a four-man crew on a Saturday which could run a few thousand dollars. He added that his guy laughed when told the previous work had been done in one day, and told Rodgers the job would require a one-week machine rental and that two and possibly three days should be estimated to ensure enough time to do the work correctly.

Ambrozaitis noted that product information instructs that when cracks are deep, it should be applied in two layers, and that he suspects the work had been done in one layer and the crew moved on. That, he said, resulted in the bumps being encountered, because two layers were not to done to bring it up to grade.

“So, again, the state giveth and then does a poor job,” he said. “Unfortunately.”

Phelps clarified that this project will need to be brought to the board for a vote at its June 21 meeting. She said more accurate numbers will be obtained so the motion can be accurately stated on the agenda.

“I think it’s something we should do,” Ambrozaitis said. “To give us that 5-year window to figure out what to then do. It’s a Band-Aid, I completely acknowledge that. But it will last at least five years if done properly, done correctly, and then gives us time to figure out where do we find the budget if we choose as a board to redo the runway completely. That’s another of the expertise that Dewayne provides: what would that look like?”

He noted the county is in possession of the specifications from when the runway was initially done, as well as specs on the turf [another discussion point], adding that the CCRC indicated it might be able to help with the turf runways via road graders [something also to be done at a later date].

“I think there’s an ability that we can self-help on this,” Ambrozaitis said. “Because, as I’ve said in the past, we’re not a NPIAS [National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems] airport – I don’t foresee that we’ll ever be a NPIAS airport – because we are not eligible for federal funding. We have to do state funding, and we have to do self-funding.”

Rodgers reminded that the proposed work would not take out the bumps, but that if the cracks were not sealed to keep water out, eventually it would all unravel.

When Commissioner George Gilmore asked just how much use the airport gets, Ambrozaitis acknowledged that is something hard to gauge, but that pilots are asked to voluntarily register at the airport restaurant. A sign-in log is available there, because a proper airport manager’s office is currently unavailable. Aside from there being no mandatory way to track plane traffic, it was noted the legal requirement is that there be one flight per year, and that the airport is getting “quite a bit of usage.” Commissioner Rickie Fancon, whose GFL business is adjacent to the airport, said he sees weekly usage.

When Gilmore questioned what the county is spending vs. how much it is used, it was explained that the county was currently not spending anything on airport upkeep. It has been self-funded through the sale of property, restaurant and hangar leases. Phelps further explained that after the current year, the county will have to start funding it.

Haskell reminded that in years past, the county had budgeted $10,000 annually for the airport, and Ambrozaitis added that there also had been a cooperative agreement with the City of Harrison and Hayes Township which brought that number up to $20,000.

“Which in my opinion is insufficient to run that airport,” Ambrozaitis said. “And you can see the degradation over time, because we haven’t applied money.”

Haskell then spoke of his reasoning for why he believed the county should try to save the airport.

“Talking to all these organizations that want to bring businesses into Clare County, the Harrison area – to help out with the tax base and everything – one of the main things is we could have had two or three businesses that provide really good-paying jobs, but we didn’t have an airport that was up to their standards,” he said. “I feel if we can get that better, it would be a more attractive place for businesses to come to our area. I feel it’s worth a try … the economic advantages of it would be worth the try to make it happen.”

With a consensus among commissioners, the proposal for improving the runway condition was approved for placement on the BOC’s June 21 agenda.


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