Saturday, October 14, 2017

Bowers Field Airport (KELN) facing costly repairs, permanent runway closure

The secondary runway at the Bowers Field Airport in Ellensburg could permanently shut down by next spring if the county cannot fund its repairs, according to County Public Works Director Mark Cook.

In front of an audience of about 30 people, Cook met with the Kittitas County airport advisory committee Wednesday night to discuss the cost of repairing the secondary runway, which Public Works shut down earlier this year due to lack of funding to resurface it.

“No professional pavement specialist is going to tell you that this is a safe runway,” Cook said. “The airport isn’t an asset. It’s a liability.”

The secondary runway’s pavement has not been updated in roughly 40 years and is filled with cracks and weeds tall enough to draw attention from the County Weed Board. The runway’s lighting and drainage need to be updated.

Assessments by HLA and Engineering and Land Surveying Inc. would cost $68,000 alone — more than double the $32,000 needed to maintain the airport annually.

Time is running out to come up with funding solutions. By the second week of November, the airport will be operating on reserve funds, Cook said.

If the runway is not in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration guidelines by March 2018, Cook said that he would be required to file a recommendation to the county commissioners to shut it down permanently unless it were redesigned to meet Washington State Department of Transportation standards as a limited service runway for small aircraft.

He gave three options to preserve the secondary runway, and suggested reducing the length and width from 5,590 by 150 feet to 3,700 by 60 feet to reduce costs. The options are:

Patch the secondary runway while main runway is updated for Central Washington University to use. The option could be costly and would only last for up to three years. It would cost roughly $424,000.

Shortening the secondary runway and removing the excess asphalt would cost about $494,000.

Building a new taxiway parallel to the secondary runway that would only serve smaller training aircraft for about $557,000.

As part of an updated master plan for the airport, the main runway, sometimes called 11/29, also will need to be updated and shut down during construction.

Of the FAA’s $64.1 million funding package for the 2015-2017 biennium, $55.4 million in grants was awarded to federal airports, $1.8 million for state airports, and $6.8 million for local airports.

Cook said that there is no guarantee how much of that money might cover repairs to the 7/25 runway. Raising the airport’s lease rates would be among the most viable options, Cook said.

Last year, the Cle Elum Municipal Airport was awarded $17,676.93 in state grants and $349,452.00 in federal grants for helicopter parking construction.

CWU’s aviation students are the airport’s main users and conduct about 90 percent of the takeoffs and landings through its aviation training program.

PRIVATE SALE?

Selling the airport to a limited liability company is also an option, according to Warren Henderson, Northwest Mountain Regional Manager of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

On Monday, an undisclosed private buyer offered to buy the Bowers Field hangars from the county, Cook said. A decision by the county on the proposal is still pending.

“If the private industry is a better manager, then I want to explore that,” Cook said. “The county does not have the resources to aggressively manage these assets.”

Steve Moore, a local pilot, opposed the idea of the airport’s sale to a private owner, saying Bowers Field is a community asset.

“Airports operate on the assumption that they bring money to the community,” Moore said. “It’s shortsighted to think that people like myself who rent small hangars, who spend money on goods and services in town, don’t benefit from the airport.”

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