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$3.5M BE airport project under way

By Staff | Jul 31, 2011

After numerous delays, the large two-year construction project at the Blue Earth Airport is getting back on schedule.

Crews are busy building a new taxiway that is parallel to the current runway. They are finishing all of the dirt work and will begin laying concrete soon.

Already the crews have laid the concrete approach taxiway and the apron.

“While our normal taxiway from the runway to the hangar area is being rebuilt, we are having pilots use the grass taxiway on the north side of the airport,” airport manager Tim Steier says. “This includes using our auxillary grass runway as part of the taxiway.”

Steier says the Blue Earth Airport is lucky that it will never have to be closed during the two-year project.

“After the taxiway is finished this year, it can be used as the runway next year, when our runway is rebuilt and repaved,” Steier says. “Some airports have had to be closed for six months or more while this type of work is done. We should not be closed for even one day.”

City Administrator Kathy Bailey says the two part plan was always the way the project was scheduled, so that the airport could remain open. However, Bailey says the time schedule has changed a bit.

“We originally were going to have this Phase 1 portion completed either last fall or early this spring,” she says. “But, we did not receive the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) grant until October last year.”

The total cost of this first phase of the airport work is $2,524,736. Of that amount, the FAA is paying for $2,398,500.

“The local share is $126,236,” Bailey says. “We will have a similar amount for Phase 2.”

Phase 2, the actual reconstruction and paving of the runway, could start this construction season, but might face a delay due to the federal budget issues in Congress.

“We don’t know when we will find out about the FAA grant for Phase 2,” Bailey says. “The funding cycle begins in mid-July, but now we just don’t know when we might get the grant.”

In fact, Bailey says, the FAA shutdown last week except for necessary operations due to the federal budget discussions. On hold are the $2.5 billion for airport construction projects, including the funds for Blue Earth.

“We are still expecting the grant for Phase 2, because we have been approved earlier,” Bailey says. “But it may not be until much later this summer.”

When the runway is rebuilt next year, it will remain the same length as it is now, 3,400 feet. A proposal to increase the length was initially approved by the FAA, but later was not approved.

The FAA funds airport improvement projects such as this one in Blue Earth on a 95 percent basis, with 5 percent coming as local effort.

It is expected that all three phases of the project (runway, taxiway and apron area) will cost the city between $381,473 and $394,263 depending on the total of the bids.

The overall cost is projected to be $3.5 million.