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A run-down on the new runway

By Staff | Nov 30, 2009

To the Editor:

I understand that there have been some news reports about the Blue Earth City Council’s consideration of the FAA’s request for a concrete alternate for the airport runway and taxiway reconstruction.

I am one of the “lobbyists” that engaged the city council, Bolton and Menk (the consulting engineers) and the FAA. I am a former resident of Blue Earth and a frequent flyer who pays airline ticket taxes which ultimately fund general aviation projects such as this.

My only interest is that the FAA and city council consider concrete pavements in this once-in-a-lifetime funding opportunity. While my father was part-owner of Blue Earth Ready Mix in the 1970s and 1980s, I have no financial interest in whether concrete is used or not.

Most of your readers are probably unaware that the runway project was originally planned to be a concrete overlay of the existing runway along with a full depth concrete extension. About a year ago, the plans apparently changed to include the total reconstruction of the runway along with construction of the taxiways. I became aware that the Airport Committee considered multiple pavement alternatives earlier this year and had rejected the use of concrete, other than for the aprons.

I subsequently engaged the Concrete Paving Association of Minnesota (CPAM) to discuss this decision with the consulting engineer to see if there was the possibility of a concrete pavement alternate. The reason I got CPAM involved was to deal with technical and lifecycle cost issues and to ensure that Bolton and Menk had the latest facts to adequately compare concrete against asphalt pavements. In addition, I wrote two letters to the city council in May and July 2009 that provided additional facts and requested consideration of a concrete alternate bid.

On Oct. 26, when the city held a special meeting and decided to go forward with the airport reconstruction project, Wells Concrete was in attendance and actively questioned the council and consulting engineer about the decision for asphalt pavements. Wells Concrete is a significant employer, taxpayer and promoter of economic development for Blue Earth and Faribault County. We were told that the FAA would not pay for concrete and were directed to Sandra DePottey of the FAA if we had further questions.

I sent Ms. DePottey an email requesting consideration of the concrete alternate bid, especially given its lifecycle maintenance cost advantages and recent increases in asphalt costs. The benefit of this is that the bidding competition for this project would be significantly increased, leading to lower construction costs for the FAA and City of Blue Earth, irrespective of the final pavement selection. In addition, the owners would have objective information about the real cost differentials between concrete and asphalt and could make a more informed decision based on initial and lifecycle maintenance costs.

As your readers may know, the FAA asked the city and consulting engineer to add a concrete alternate to the bid letting and the City Council aggressively acted to reject this request, even though the FAA is funding 95 percent of the project and the city’s share for the concrete specifications and plans was a little over $2,000. We are surprised that what we view as a superior pavement was seemingly rejected for reasons other than initial cost.

I was fortunate to visit Blue Earth for my high school class reunion on the weekend of July 10-12. I spent some time driving the streets in town and visiting the airport. It is very apparent from observing at a distance that the bituminous aprons, taxiway and runway need reconstruction and I am supportive of this project.

I do want to point out Blue Earth has been successful in utilizing concrete pavements and getting significant value from those pavements. For example, look at the condition of Fourth Street in Blue Earth, between Nicollet and Moore Streets. I noticed deterioration of some of the panels, especially near Main Street, but it is apparent that the city has had to fund minimal maintenance on that pavement which is now 36 years old (it was constructed in 1973).

Finally, the choice of asphalt pavements commits the city and FAA to a long-term maintenance plan (that uses oil-based products that are volatile in cost) to ensure that the runway meets a useful life of at least 35 years. The maintenance includes seal coating and patching, mill and overlays. We estimate the cost differential in favor of concrete represents savings to the FAA and City of Blue Earth of at least $150,000 to $200,000. And it is possible that the savings may be greater if the initial construction costs are lower due to aggressive bidding by concrete contractors.

While our efforts to promote concrete for the Blue Earth Airport project have been unsuccessful as of this date, I hope this letter gives your readers the facts on our “lobbying.” Our ultimate goal was to ensure that this project delivered the lowest pavement lifecycle costs and ultimately the best value for the taxpayer.

In our belief, the timing of this project represents a unique opportunity for the City of Blue Earth to construct a runway pavement that will be superior to what was used in the past.

Randy Schreiner, Mahtomedi