Long-awaited runway project takes off

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Feb. 25--Humboldt County Public Works Director Tom Mattson told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that slightly more than $9 million in Federal Aviation Administration funds are on the way to Humboldt County -- the bulk going to improve the Arcata-Eureka Airport's main runway.

The funds would likely not be coming to Humboldt County without the recently approved federal stimulus funds, Mattson said.

The word came from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office late Friday, Mattson said. The director appeared before the board requesting permission to accept the grants: $8.7 million for runway safety improvements and $170,525 each for automated weather observation systems at the Garberville and Rohnerville airports.

Currently, the FAA has issued a waiver to its runway safety standards to allow larger jets to land at the Arcata-Eureka Airport -- with the grants, public works will be able to update the landing areas and waivers will no longer be necessary, Mattson said.

The FAA funded the project's proposed design in 2008, he said. The two main elements are extending the length of the main runway and adding an Engineered Material Arresting System, or EMAS, an area to slow aircraft that go off the runway -- similar to areas adjacent to highways to stop runaway semi trucks.

It's anticipated that the FAA will fund a related bluff stabilization project at the north end of the main runway in 2010. Mattson said the FAA has indicated funds for the bluff stabilization work will be forthcoming when the required permits are in place.

The emergency stopping area is planned for the north end of the main runway, while the south end will be extended slightly and the taxiway -- due west of the main runway -- will be extended to meet up with the new end of the main runway.

The runway work and the automated weather observation systems come with required local matches: $461,031 for the runway work and $8,975 each for the weather stations. According to the staff report, a combination of passenger facility charges, Headwaters grants and loans, and funds from the California Aid to Airports Program will cover those costs.

While the entire project will be put out to bid, Mattson said there's only one EMAS manufacturer.

McKinleyville resident Ron Coffman expressed his gratitude to the Public Works Department for keeping the safety improvements within the airport's footprint. When first discussed some years back, plans had been considered to realign Central Avenue near the south end of the runway and possibly require removal of several homes through eminent domain.

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