Thursday, March 31, 2016

Yeager Airport (KCRW) slope failure cost tagged at $18 million; cleanup, construction projects on hold

While the spring construction season appears to have arrived, work on clearing the remaining 200,000 cubic yards of Yeager Airport’s collapsed safety overrun area remains in a holding pattern until protocols for collecting samples of materials from the base of the slide for use as evidence in pending lawsuits are worked out in Kanawha Circuit Court.

Guidelines for conducting such forensic tests are expected to be taken up during an April 13 status hearing before Judge Joanna Tabit, Yeager Executive Director Terry Sayre told members of the Charleston Airport’s board of directors on Wednesday. Until core drilling schedules and other sampling procedures are agreed upon, no slide removal work can be done, Sayre said.

About 300,000 cubic yards of rock and debris were removed from the slide zone last summer and fall.

Also on hold at the Charleston airport is an $8 million taxiway rehabilitation project already approved and 90-percent funded by the Federal Aviation Administration, due to uncertainty about obtaining the $800,000 in matching funds needed to get the project under contract. Last year, as a cost-cutting measure, the State Aeronautics Commission dropped a previous policy of providing matching funds for FAA-approved airport maintenance and construction projects in West Virginia.

An announcement about whether, and at what level, the Aeronautics Commission will resume issuing matching grants is expected to be made at the commission’s April 28 meeting in Parkersburg.

Sayre announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency turned down the airport’s request to pay for the reconstruction of the collapsed safety overrun area, but said an appeal that includes forensic data already obtained from the slide zone will be filed with FEMA in early April.

The airport director added that the state Department of Transportation denied a second request by Yeager to use FEMA funds the state agency qualified for following the floods and heavy rains of March 2015 to help the airport clear slide debris from Keystone Drive.

On a more positive note, board members learned that a tentative settlement has been reached with Yeager’s insurer, AIG, to reimburse the airport for certain repairs, relocation costs, home buyouts and other emergency expenses paid to residents along Keystone and Barlow drives in the weeks and months following the safety overrun collapse. A formal settlement is expected to be ready for a vote during April’s board meeting.

A recent audit of the Charleston airport showed that the safety overrun collapse reduced the airport’s value by $18.27 million, in terms of infrastructure and real estate losses, Finance Committee Chairman Trip Shumate told board members.

Priscilla Haden, who serves on Yeager’s marketing committee, said a plan is being developed to convert the airport terminal’s second-floor observation area into an education center, with television monitors displaying the types of aircraft that use the airport and flight departure and arrival information, along with an audio link to air traffic controllers as they communicate with approaching and departing air crews.

Tours of the air traffic control room, the Transportation Security Administration’s security gate operation and the Air National Guard flight line and fire department would be available to school groups.

Airport public information officer Mike Plante said a plan to provide free bus service from Yeager Airport to the Boy Scouts of America’s Summit Bechtel Reserve for scouts taking part in summer programs there is being discussed with Boy Scout officials.

The bus service, to be offered in partnership with National Travel, would serve as an incentive for Scouts to fly to Charleston for jamborees and other activities at the New River Gorge Scouting center, instead of flying to hubs like Charlotte, N.C, or Washington, D.C., and riding charter buses from there.

“This meeting marks the first anniversary of the slope failure,” Board Chairman Ed Hill observed at the end of Wednesday’s meeting. “It’s been a challenging year, and we’ve still got a long way to go, but we’re getting there a step at a time.”

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