Airport to Divert Nearby Road for Safety

June 28, 2007
FAA requires this, other changes be completed by 2015

A near collision several years ago between a plane approaching Lake in the Hills Airport and a truck on Pyott Road only 75 feet from the runway underscores the need to move a section of the street, officials say.

"The airport had several glaring safety deficiencies, including the proximity of the road to the runway," said David Gregoria, manager of the village-owned airport. "It's pretty darn close."

Gregoria said the road must be lowered by 12 feet and moved 300 feet east to comply with a buffer zone required by the Federal Aviation Administration.

McHenry County's only public airport is tackling these and other improvements to bring the facility into compliance by 2010. The road relocation is projected to cost $8 million, with a federal grant covering 95 percent.

Other plans call for moving the taxiway, administration offices and main parking apron, and widening the runway from 50 to 100 feet as part of an FAA initiative to improve runway safety areas at all airports by 2015.

"It's important to protect that runway, not only for the people using it in aircraft, but for people and property on the ground," said FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory.

Airport officials expect to finalize in July the $2.2 million purchase of 38 acres from Meyer Material Co. of McHenry. Negotiations are under way for a 5-acre parcel owned by Chicago-based Material Service Corp., along with two smaller properties, to facilitate the road move, Gregoria said.

Lake in the Hills, which can accommodate small jets on its 3,800-foot runway, is home to 139 planes and handles about 60,000 flights a year, officials said.

"The airport has to be brought up to standard for us to make a continuing investment in it," Cory said.

The dangers of an inadequate buffer zone were brought home in December 2005 when a Southwest Airlines plane skidded beyond a runway at Midway Airport during a snowstorm and crashed into several vehicles, killing Joshua Woods, 6, of Indiana. Midway installed a bed of crushable concrete last year in an effort to prevent a recurrence.

Lake in the Hills pilots have had several minor runway collisions with deer and other wildlife in recent years, despite a perimeter fence. Last winter a Cessna 182 flipped during a landing in snowy conditions, something that might have been averted on a wider runway, Gregoria said.

"We deal with a lot of crosswinds up here, so the more pavement the pilots have underneath them, the safer it is," he said.

Privately owned for most of its 50 years, the former Crystal Lake Airport was annexed into Lake in the Hills in 1982 after a legal battle between the municipalities. It was owned by Material Service, which mined much of the surrounding area, and the village entered into a purchase agreement for the airport that year but leased it to private operators until 1999.

In 2002, the village finally closed on the 27-acre airport for $820,000, buying an additional 40 acres the next year for $2.4 million.

The road relocation would begin next year with a 2010 target date for completion if the village can acquire the necessary land before winter. Federal budget woes could mean delays on the runway and taxiway projects, Gregoria said.

"The village does not have the finances to correct those deficiencies," he said. "The only way we could do it would be with the help of federal funds, so it may not happen as quickly as we want."

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