By RICK STEELHAMMER
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A proposed $290 million emergency infrastructure project for rebuilding and extending Yeager Airport’s runway following the recently completed removal of debris from the March 2015 safety overrun area collapse calls for lengthening the runway from its present 6,802 feet to 8,000 feet, and adding 1,000-foot safety zones at each end, doing away with the need to replace the Engineered Materials Arresting System that was destroyed in the landslide.
Officials from the Charleston airport presented the plan to Nick Casey, Gov. Jim Justice’s chief of staff last week, in hopes of having the governor submit it to the Trump Administration for inclusion on its High Priority Infrastructure Projects list, qualifying the project for an expedited environmental review and making it possible for construction to begin sooner than normal.
Under Yeager’s emergency rebuilding plan, virtually all of the added runway and safety zone space would come from county-owned Coonskin Park, which borders the airport. Basically, the portion of the park that now lies below the airport’s 3,000-foot-long tower-mounted runway approach lights would be covered with compacted fill and brought up to runway grade. The loss of that land for public use would be mitigated by building a new outdoor multi-sports athletic complex at Coonskin Park, or on airport property adjacent to the park.
According to the infrastructure plan, the added runway length is needed to avoid weight penalties on departing long-haul commercial aircraft, to attract airlines with larger jets and to meet the needs of more civilian and military aircraft.
Other big-ticket items listed in the plan include:
Replacing Yeager’s 67-year-old air traffic control tower and upgrading its instrument landing system.
Replacing the antiquated approach lights system now in use at the Coonskin Park end of the runway with an up-to-date medium intensity approach lighting system,
Expanding the Air National Guard ramp to allow more parking space aircraft from all military branches to accommodate more training exercises and the possible expansion of Air Guard operations based at Yeager to include Air Force Special Operations aircraft and missions.
Expanding the general aviation ramp to develop 15 acres of flat land suitable for air cargo and aircraft maintenance facilities.
Constructing a U.S. Customs building to serve international business, cargo and military aircraft.
Rehabilitating the abandoned rail line along the Elk River from downtown Charleston to create a freight rail facility on airport property along Barlow Drive and make possible a tourist train to shuttle people from Capitol Market to Coonskin Park on weekends.
Rehabilitate the passenger terminal by building a new security checkpoint, replacing aging jet bridges.
Total estimated cost for all projects in the plan is $290 million, $125 million of which involves the planned runway extension, lights and navigational aids.
Creating the 15 acres of space for air freight and aircraft maintenance businesses near the general aviation terminal was estimated to cost $25 million, while the new air traffic control tower was priced at $10 million. Mitigation work in Coonskin Park and the rehabilitation of the rail line were each expected to cost about $20 million, while the Customs facility and the Air National Guard ramp expansion were each estimated to cost about $5 million.
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