Saturday, April 19, 2014

Yeager Airport (KCRW) hilltop removal project flying high

While Confucius believed that the best way to take down a mountain is to “begin by carrying away small stones,” the contracting crew working on a runway-obstruction removal project for Yeager Airport is taking a different approach — one that involves drilling, blasting, dozing, excavating, loading and hauling stones of all sizes.

“They’re really getting after it,” Tim Murnahan, the Charleston airport’s assistant director, said of St. Albans-based Central Contracting’s earth-moving crew. “Even though it wasn’t until early March that they really started moving dirt, they’re already ahead of schedule. They think they’ll have all the material moved off the hill sometime this winter.”

The project involves removing nearly 1.3 million cubic yards of earth from the top of a knoll that lies about 4,000 feet beyond the end of Yeager’s main runway nearest to downtown Charleston. Some parts of the knoll will be reduced in elevation by up to 120 feet, while 50 feet will be the average elevation loss for the rest of the property.

The 14-acre tract on which the excavating and soil-disposal work is taking place lies on land acquired from the developer of Northgate office park, and from 40 owners of small properties in the Coal Branch Heights-area, including seven homeowners who negotiated buyouts with the airport.

By reducing the elevation of the knoll, the Federal Aviation Administration will be able to reduce rules that now require airplanes leaving the southern end of the main runway to climb faster than usual. With the top of the knoll gone, departing aircraft will not have to gain elevation as rapidly and steeply as they now do, allowing airlines to save fuel. In summer months, when high heat and humidity make aircraft engines operate less efficiently, the lowered knoll will allow airlines to avoid weight penalties for departing aircraft on Yeager’s longer, nonstop flights, meaning fewer passengers get bumped and less baggage gets left behind.

The $16 million obstruction-removal project was recommended and approved by the FAA, which also provides most of the project’s funding.

The obstruction removal also will reduce restrictions on arriving aircraft using the airport’s instrument-landing system.

In addition to saving airlines an estimated $2 million and reducing the number of bumped passengers, the obstruction-removal project will make Yeager a more attractive place to operate for airlines considering opening or expanding service here, Murnahan said.

Four solar-powered seismographs are operating in the construction zone, and in nearby Coal Branch Heights, to make sure the effects of blasting don’t produce property damage or exceed state regulations.

“If something registers 1 [on the Richter scale] or above, the seismographs automatically call it in” using cellphone technology, Murnahan said.

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