Sept. 09--Beginning this week and continuing for the next two months, business at the Monroe County Airport will be disrupted as mitigation of sinkholes under the airport's main runway, discovered more than two years ago, begins.
The Federal Aviation Administration awarded a $9.8 million grant on Sept. 4 to address the problem of sinkholes beneath the airport's larger runway. Bill Pugh, president of the board of aviation commissioners, signed the final paperwork late last week.
The total cost of the project will be $10.9 million. The state and county will provide a 2.5 and 7 percent match to the federal money, respectively.
"Grants of this nature don't happen for no reason," Ken Richie, member of the board of aviation commissioners, told the Monroe County Board of Commissioners Friday. The airport and aviation board have set aside money to help with the matching portions of the grants, he added.
Crider & Crider, a Bloomington firm, will start moving equipment in and should close the main runway before the end of this week, said Bruce Payton, manager of the Monroe County Airport. The smaller runway will remain open.
Two sinkholes were discovered in May 2011 near the airport's main runway during a routine check. Though they have been temporarily filled with concrete, a more permanent solution will be used to mitigate the holes.
The mitigation process will remove 400,000 yards of soil from the top of the bedrock in order to identify every single crack that could become a potential sinkhole. Sinkholes and potential sinkholes will be filled with a large stone base, a fine stone filter and layers of thick fabric, called geotextile, followed by a layer of soil. The layers will be compacted, and asphalt will be put on top.
The new mitigation process, besides being more environmentally friendly, should last between 100 and 1,000 years.
Closing the main runway will pose a variety of problems for regular users of the airport and businesses located on the airport's grounds.
"We've talked with all of the businesses over this long period of time," Payton said. "There's no question it's an adverse impact."
Those with charter jets, mainly businesses and Indiana University, will need to temporarily move their jets. Rex Hinkle, president of Cook Aviation, said that many planes use Bloomington as a refueling stop for long flights, and the two-month closure will definitely cause some problems, though smaller airplanes will still be using the airport facilities.
Fall is one of the busiest times of the year for the airport in general, particularly with IU and other Big Ten sports teams flying in and out for different events, and that expands out into other businesses located on the airport grounds.
"This is the time of the year where we have our biggest fuel sales," Hinkle said.
Hinkle didn't want to speculate on how much Cook Aviation will lose from the closure, noting that it will depend on how long the process actually takes.
Construction will start going into what Payton called "late construction season," and is expected to move as quickly as possible to avoid getting stopped by the winter season.
Though the closure will cause some problems during the busiest season, there are some benefits, Payton said.
The two-month closure will not only allow the airport time to fix sinkhole problems, but will provide a chance to resurface the runway as well. The projects are being done simultaneously to prevent the need for additional closure of the runway and hardship to airport-adjacent businesses.
"We would say the same thing: Let's do it -- let's bite the bullet," Hinkle said. "We're excited about the opportunity of getting this situation taken care of, and having a brand-new runway will be well worth it."
Additionally, the construction will be done by a local contractor, meaning an influx of local jobs.
"That money is going to go to some airport," Payton said. "That money reverberates back around through businesses in the area. That's a tremendous economic amount in terms of jobs and workforce. We're not just getting a project, we're getting a tremendous economic boost."
Vernace told the county during that August meeting that he didn't think the FAA would support shortening the runway because it might cause airport businesses to lose revenue through lower fuel sales.
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