Friday, October 23, 2015

Yeager Airport (KCRW) officials want Rainy Day Fund money for landslide repairs

Yeager Airport officials are poised to ask Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the West Virginia Legislature to tap the state’s Rainy Day Fund for the $25 million to $35 million they believe is needed to begin rebuilding the safety-overrun zone that collapsed in a March 12 landslide.

Airport officials said insurance and lawsuit settlements won’t arrive for at least two years and they want to begin fixing the safety zone next spring.

“We can’t wait for the outcome of litigation to start turning dirt,” said Ed Hill, chairman of the airport’s governing board, during a joint meeting of the airport’s finance and construction committees on Thursday. “We know how valuable the safety overrun is. It proved its value four years ago, when it stopped a US Airways regional jet on an aborted takeoff, saving 34 lives.”

“We need to start rebuilding by spring,” said board member Allen Tackett, “What was the Rainy Day Fund put there for if not to take care of things like this?”

Hill said anticipated compensation from lawsuits and settlements from insurance carriers “would allow us to repay at least part of any money we would receive from the state.”

As of Sept. 30, the state’s two Rainy Day Funds had $857.9 million. West Virginia has usually ranked among the top states in terms of its Rainy Day Funds, although Tomblin has dipped slightly into it to balance the state’s budget the past two years.

The first phase of removing the unstable remnants of the safety-overrun area is nearing completion.

“We started at an elevation of 940 feet, and now we’re down to 830,” said Terry Sayre, Yeager’s executive director. “We should be down to 800 feet by the end of next week,” and then be ready to start the second and final phase of clearing slide debris and stabilizing the slope.

However, completion of the first phase and the purchase of two properties along Keystone Drive in the vicinity of the slide will virtually clean out the remaining $1.6 million in mitigation-work funding created by refinancing the airport’s parking garage earlier this year.

S&E Clearing and Hydroseeding, the contractor now removing material from the slide zone, has proposed completing the final phase of slope mitigation, involving the removal of 80,000 cubic yards of material, for about $400,000, and giving the airport two years to come up with a way to pay that tab. The finance committee voted to recommend accepting S&E’s offer during next Wednesday’s meeting of Yeager’s governing board.

In other developments, Sayre told committee members that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has opted to pay less than half the amount of a grant request for reimbursement for the airport’s emergency response to the slide. The Charleston airport had sought $848,000 from FEMA, but it recently was informed that the federal agency was authorizing a grant of $416,000. Since the state recently opted out of paying 25 percent matching funds for federal grants to airports, Yeager’s FEMA reimbursement drops to $313,000.

Airport officials are considering four options for rebuilding the safety zone, ranging from a plan that includes a pair of concrete retaining walls and 600,000 cubic yards of fill to one that makes use of a 2:1 slope, requiring 1.5 million cubic yards of fill to build.

Airport board members expect to make a decision on a final rebuilding plan in December.

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