Airport seeks funds for run-down runway

FERNANDINA BEACH - A failed 1995 paving experiment has left one of the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport's runways crumbling, and an official says if it continues, it may have to be closed.

In the meantime, city officials are working to get the estimated $2 million needed to fix the runway. An attempt to get the money from the Florida Department of Transportation fell victim to Gov. Charlie Crist's veto.

"It's a deteriorating runway that needs to be repaired," Fernandina Beach Airport Manager Richard Johnson said. "If it's not repaired, it could require closing. But we feel we're close to getting a solution."

Johnson said the city has worked for seven years to get that solution and that FDOT is "sympathetic" to the city's plight. FDOT's Aviation Division offered to pave the runway in 1995 free of charge, but the asphalt material - partially made up of recycled tires - didn't hold up as a runway surface, he said.

Today, portions of the asphalt are chipped away in strips and potholes down to the runway's foundation.

But Johnson said despite Crist's veto, other funding avenues may yet work.

"We're hopeful," Johnson said. "We're sending another letter to FDOT next week."

Johnson said the city is responsible for maintaining Runway 1331, one of three runways at the airport. The FAA maintains the second and FDOT supports the third, he said.

Keith Newlin, line service technician with McGill Aviation, which operates the airport, said Friday use of runways at the airport varies, based on which direction the wind is blowing. He said afternoon sea breezes make Runway 1331 a popular choice.

But the runway is definitely showing wear and tear, he said.

"It's almost like it's splitting on the surface," he said.

City commissioners agreed something needs to be done soon.

"It's a danger inasmuch as there's loose material," Commissioner Bruce Malcolm said. "It didn't hold up."

"One of the runways needs some work, and we're trying to get some help for that," Commissioner Ron Sapp said. "So far, we're not having any luck."