Saturday, June 08, 2013

Florida Keys Marathon (KMTH), Marathon, Florida: New airport director hits ground running

Photo Credit:  RYAN McCARTHY 
 New Florida Keys Marathon Airport Director Don DeGraw and his administrative assistant Julie Thomson take in the Middle Keys airfield. DeGraw was hired in March and started work Monday.


Posted - Saturday, June 08, 2013 10:45 AM EDT
Florida Keys Marathon Airport Director Don DeGraw says he's spending his first week on the job boning up on a pair of potentially major changes looming at the Middle Keys airfield.

"The two big issues is the U.S. Customs [office], so I'm taking a look at the engineering drawings and how all that's going, and the other one is the runway separation issue. I'm trying to get a firm understanding. It's either move the runway, move the taxiway or do nothing," he said.

The proposed $1.1 million Customs digs appear more pressing, with the county on May 31 submitting "85 percent complete" plans to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for review.

County Engineering Division Director Kevin Wilson said it's typical to submit plans for review when they're 35, 85 and 100 percent complete. He said Homeland Security has "fairly stringent requirements" for its buildings.

"We're right on the schedule we set so we'll hopefully ... go to the commission, go out to bid and have it on its way later this year," Wilson said. "The scope remains the same as it was before. What they review at this point are specifications for walls and interview rooms."

Meanwhile, runway issues at the airport have been going on for at least 10 years.

Local officials have long objected, but the Federal Aviation Administration has insisted on a roughly $6 million renovation to the airport's taxiway and runway centerlines.

FAA regulations require 240 feet between the centerlines of the runways and parallel taxiway. It's 200 feet in Marathon. The airport has had a longstanding waiver to operate, but the FAA has pushed to bring all airports up to the current standard.

There was fear the FAA would insist on moving the runway 40 feet to the north, which would have meant cutting out swaths of rare hardwood hammock along Aviation Boulevard. The road runs parallel to the airport and the hammock serves as a noise buffer for a large residential area.

The alternative involves decreasing the 50-foot-wide taxiway to 35 feet and moving the centerline 40 feet toward U.S. 1. Doing so would mean losing a few hangars and ramp space, but be far less costly.

DeGraw came to the Keys from New York, where he was aeronautical services manager at John F. Kennedy International Airport for the past year. He's the potential successor to long-time airports Director Peter Horton, who's set to retire in January 2015.

Aside from learning the ins and outs of the airport, DeGraw said he's been busy acquainting himself with his staff of three employees. That's far fewer than the 50 to 75 he oversaw in New York.

"It's good because you get a much more personal relationship than when you have 50 or 75 employees. Here I have three under me, so it's good. And I'm getting to know people on the airfield," he said.

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