Have a Good Flight! Fed, State Funds Land at Airport
April 9, 2015
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  • WARRENTON — The Astoria Regional Airport attracts a lot of interest, from a blossoming citizens’ flying club and a private air taxi and training service wanting to be its private operator to the U.S. Coast Guard Base and tenants from UPS to Lektro’s electric tugs.

    It also attracts interest from government grants, more than $5 million of which are touching down at the airport this summer to rehabilitate one of its runways.

    The Port Commission will soon vote on whether to approve a contract with Precision Approach Engineering to overhaul the drainage and repave Runway 13-31, which cuts northwest to southeast.

    “It will generate a ton of construction jobs,” Mike Weston, the Port’s director of business development and operations, said on Tuesday.

    The Federal Aviation Administration approved the project earlier this month, including nearly $700,000 worth of engineering services before and during construction by Precision Approach, which has been providing such services to the Port since 2009.

    The Port has received a total of about $4.6 million in discretionary funds from the FAA’s Airport Improvement Grant for the runway overlay project, Weston said. To cover its 10 percent local match, the Port received a Connect Oregon V infrastructure grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation of $480,000.

    “Hopefully in the end, the Port has an obligation of about $30,000,” Weston said of the $5 million project. The company’s representatives on the project were out at a conference and unavailable for comment.

    Fixing the pipes

    Walking the 4,900-foot Runway 13-31 Tuesday, Weston points out the cracks, creases, sinkholes and other signs of age on an equally vintage runway and drainage system underneath.

    “They’re 60 years old and collapsing,” Weston said of the drainage pipes and the large sinkholes and trenches that follow them, growing bigger with every major rain event.

    The Port shut the runway down last summer because of the safety issues.

    Precision Approach’s project includes:

    • Repaving nearly 500,000 square feet of runway;
    • Improving the grading along the sides and ends of Runway 13-31;
    • Installing new drains and a stormwater sewer system;
    • Improving the grading of the existing taxiways, down which pilots drive their planes before taking off on one of the two main runways;
    • An upgrade of pavement marking.

    The project will start sometime in mid- to late-summer, depending on when FAA money becomes available, Weston said.

    Important airport

    “We’re probably the largest airport in the region” Weston said, adding that it supports hundreds of jobs, between operations like the Coast Guard, Columbia River Bar Pilots, Lektro, Brim Aviation, UPS and others.

    The airport’s other runway, 8-26, was previously redone recently. It’s the longer of the two, at more than 5,800 feet, able to take planes as large as Boeing 737s, McDonnell Douglas DC-9s and Lockheed C-130 Hercules.

    But when the winds come from the northeast in the summer, Weston said, Runway 13-31 becomes the preferred takeoff point.

    The Port has already improved signage and lighting at the airport, with Helligso Construction performing much of the work.

    But rehabbing the runway is only part of a strategy to improve and expand the airport’s operations.

    Executive Director Jim Knight announced in November that the Port would pursue the idea of making Brim Aviation the private operator without seeking requests for proposals from other potential contractors. The Port is trying to structure a deal with Brim, Weston Said. Brim provides transportation for Columbia River Bar Pilots and trains visiting helicopter pilots at the airport. Brim has said, through its management in Astoria, it can increase the marketing of the airport and the service.

    Weston added that the Port still wants direct access to the airport from U.S. Highway 101, via Harbor Drive on the northwestern edge of the property.

    “The more activity we have,” he said, “the more support we can get from the Federal Aviation Administration.”