Colorado Springs Launches Investigation of Runway

The Colorado Springs Airport has launched an investigation into what caused premature deterioration of the airport's main runway.

The inquiry comes after the city-owned airport learned this month of claims calling into question the work by the concrete contractor in 1991. But even if the contractor is faulted, the city is unlikely to receive compensation because the contractor is no longer in business.

Until now, airport officials have contended the 15-year-old runway's deterioration was due to chemical reaction with soils in the concrete and a common runway de-icer, said Mark Earle, aviation director at the Colorado Springs Airport.

A recently unsealed California lawsuit, filed in 1995, shows that concrete work done at Colorado Springs Airport and Denver International Airport by Ball, Ball and Brosamer didn't meet Federal Aviation Administration specifications.

The Colorado Springs Airport said it had no knowledge that Ball, Ball and Brosamer allegedly poured faulty batches of concrete at airports in Colorado Springs and elsewhere.

"It was brought to our attention just a couple of weeks ago. We do have a lot of questions for the FAA, because we cannot find anything in our records that we were notified by FAA or Department of Justice of any claim relating to Colorado Springs or DIA runways," Earle said. "We're going to find out why this happened and why this wasn't communicated to us."

The FAA said it was not its responsibility to notify Colorado Springs of the allegations, because they were public knowledg, said Laura Brown, FAA spokeswoman.

The airport is interested in the 1995 lawsuit because the faulty mixture could be the reason for the chemical reaction that forced the current $32.2 million reconstruction of the runway, which was supposed to last 25 to 35 more years, FAA engineers say.

According to the lawsuit, Ball, Ball and Brosamer tampered with concrete mixtures at runways at the Colorado Springs Airport, Denver International Airport and John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., by adding too much sand, pebbles and water to thin out the use of the most expensive ingredient, cement.

Although the mixtures passed FAA requirements at the time, a subcontractor of the Colorado Springs project, Doug Ruder, claims that Ball, Ball and Brosamer had sufficient notice the inspectors were coming and would alter the concrete's composition before test samples were taken. Once the inspectors were gone, BB&B went back to altering the mixtures, Ruder said.

"We rely on strict testing to indicate if a runway meets our requirements," the FAA's Brown said. If they are falsifying the testing, there's not much the agency can do, she said.

According to Ruder, an ingredients report from the 1991 runway project in Colorado Springs, which he obtained from the Airport Authority in Denver, show that the concrete mix was tampered with by BB&B. The FAA does not look at all the reports when conducting tests of airport runways, Brown said.

Ruder tried to tell Colorado Springs Airport administrators of his discovery in 1994, but they did not want to listen and did not allow him to do follow-up core samples of the runway, he said.

"I was stonewalled by the city of Colorado Springs on getting access to the runway. Ten years ago, I told them that the runway was going to give them problems," Ruder said. "For them to say that they don't know about it, they are lying through their teeth. Maybe the current people don't, but the other administrators certainly did."

Earle became the airport's director in 2003, nine years after Ruder approached the airport about the problem. Former Aviation Director Gary Gree could not be reached for comment.

Because core samples were not taken at the Colorado Springs Airport by the airport administration, the FAA or Ruder, it was never confirmed that BB&B used faulty batches on the airport's main runway. The lawsuits against BB&B were settled out of court for about $3 million.

"They (BB&B) should have been sued for a few hundred million. Instead it was about $3 million," Ruder said. "They should have had to rebuild the runway in Denver and Colorado Springs."

The FAA did not pay BB&B for its work at DIA because of the allegations, Brown said. Orange County refused to pay BB&B for some of the work it did at John Wayne Airport in 1990 because it was substandard and did not pass strength tests, according to a recent article by the California Aviation Alliance.

The FAA paid for about 95 percent of the Colorado Springs runway project in 1991, the FAA said. The FAA is funding 95 percent of the current runway project; the other 5 percent is funded by passenger facility charges, Earle said.

Engineers from CH2M Hill, who are working on the current runway project at Colorado Springs, are conducting random core samples of every layer of runway poured. The samples are tested by an independent laboratory. The engineers are not warned as to when the random inspections will occur, said Dirk Draper, manager of CH2M Hill's Colorado Springs office.

The engineers also are doing additional tests to control the amount and type of aggregate used in the concrete. The FAA maintains it was the type of local soils used in the 1991 runway project, not the amount of soil used, that caused the premature corrosion of the Colorado Springs runway.

Copyright: The Gazette -- 7/28/06

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