The U.S. Marines and Navy will bring approximately 500 tons of equipment and tools to Catalina Island the week of Dec. 17 to prepare for the January arrival of over 100 Marines and Navy Seabees who will repair the aging main runway at the Catalina Island Conservancy’s Airport in the Sky.
This strategic project will provide the troops with valuable training in a remote location with difficult logistics and will ensure the Island’s only airport remains open to the public.
The trucks, construction equipment, tents and other supplies needed to support the runway repair and the troops during their expected three-month stay on Catalina will be shipped from the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro to Catalina Harbor in the Two Harbors area of the Island. The equipment will then travel from Catalina Harbor to the Airport in the Sky on existing roads during the week of December 17.
“We are so appreciative of the Marines’ and the Navy’s commitment to this partnership, and we welcome the arrival of all this equipment they’re providing for the runway repair,” said Tony Budrovich, Catalina Island Conservancy president and CEO. “The airport is an historic and critical asset for Catalina, and the main runway’s condition had put the airport at risk of closure to the public if we hadn’t found this innovative solution to reduce the construction cost. Our partnership with the Marines and Navy will extend the life of the runway for another 75-100 years and help train the troops for deployments to islands and other remote destinations to build or repair airfields and other infrastructure.”
The Airport in the Sky provides access to Catalina via air for first responders, travelers, residents and businesses. The airport is the Island’s U.S. Mail and UPS delivery hub. An estimated 3.5 million pounds of freight, which includes medical and emergency supplies, is also shipped through the airport annually.
For years, the Conservancy has been patching the airport’s main runway, costing approximately $250,000 a year. But the California Department of Transportation’s (Caltrans’) Aeronautics Division had told the Conservancy it needed a long-term repair plan in place by September 2018 to continue to operate the airport as a public airport.
With the help of U. S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, Gary Cathey, former chief of Caltrans Aeronautics Division, and Patrick Miles, Caltrans aviation safety officer, the Conservancy reached an agreement for the airport runway to be repaired through the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training Program (IRT). The program matches community needs with military training opportunities.
“The Catalina Island Conservancy’s Airport in the Sky presents a unique training opportunity for Marines and Sailors to conduct relevant, real-world training while providing a service to our local community,” said 2nd Lieutenant Zachary Bodner, a 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3rd MAW) spokesman.
I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) at Camp Pendleton has assigned 3rd MAW from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar to support this unique training opportunity. The 3rd MAW has identified Marine Wing Support Squadron 373 (MWSS-373) to serve as the lead element for the successful repair of the runway. Naval Construction Group One (NCG1), First Naval Construction Regiment (1NCR) and Navy Mobility Construction Battalion (NCMB-25) personnel will also participate in the project with quality control and medical support.
“Since 1942, U.S. Navy Seabees have served side-by-side with all our nation's Armed Forces to build and defend critical infrastructure to support every major theater operation in our history. From building 6,000-foot ice runways in Antarctica to airstrips in the Pacific, the Seabees have demonstrated their ‘Can Do’ spirit, and we will do that once again alongside the Marines on the Catalina Island runway repair project,” said LT. Saul Perez Ravelo, Civil Engineer Corps, U.S. Navy.
Over the expected three-month course of the repair project, troops will rotate on and off the Island. A group of Marines will travel to Catalina to help transport the equipment to the Island in mid-December and then return to the mainland for the holidays. A smaller group will remain on Catalina over the holidays. Catalina Island Conservancy Board Chair Kellie Johnson plans to host the Marines for Christmas dinner at her Avalon home. The largest contingency of Marines and Sailors will be flown to the Airport in the Sky in early January to begin work on the runway.