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Airport finances taxiing to uncertain fate

POSTED: July 17, 2007 5:02 a.m.
Budgeting miscalculations, possible operational delays and construction-error oversights raise further alarm in regards to the troubled airport project at Wright Army Airfield.
The Liberty County Development Authority budget was adopted Friday, including a six-month budget for the Midcoast Regional Airport.
The Midcoast portion of the budget includes revenue that’s expected to be generated from hangars at the airport.
The city of Hinesville, Liberty County and the LCDA are each paying one-third of the cost for the construction of the hangars, and they expect to recoup the money by renting out the hangars to the public and to companies, County Administrator Joey Brown said.
But there is an apparent inequity between the three 50X50 hangars (anticipated to collectively generate $18,000 in six months) and the 100X100 hangar (expected to generate $33,000 in six months).
When crunching the numbers, the three smaller hangers will each rent for $1,000 a month (equaling the budgeted total of $18,000). But the rental fee for the large hanger will jump 550 percent ($5,500 a month) to reach the revenue of $33,000.
In regards to the operational delays at Midcoast, the CEO of the development authority, Ron Tolley, said the airport might not meet its early October 2007 completion date.
“(Joey) Brown felt we were still on target for October, and I would certainly say at least by the end of the year. You never know what things will occur,” Tolley said. “Everyone feels very comfortable that it will be ready by the end of the year, and perhaps October.”
Since the county and their consulting engineering firm, Wilbur Smith Associates, now face the task of repaving the taxiway because of organic contamination, senior project advisor Ed Mayle of KSA Engineers was able to provide some insights on the reconstruction process and how a major construction error went unnoticed.
Because Douglas Asphalt paved the taxiway with tainted asphalt, they were removed from the project, and Ellis Wood Construction was hired to redo the job, and to pave the runways and aprons, Ellis Wood said.
Wood will strip off two-and-a-half inches of the contaminated asphalt, and lay three-and-a-half inches back on, he said.
“One reason for installing three-and-a-half inches after the removal process would be to compensate for grade deviations resulting from the milling (removal) process. The extra asphalt thickness, while expensive, is still cost effective verses reworking the underlying material,” Mayle said.
But Mayle noted the inspectors from the county, Wilbur and Douglas, should have realized the asphalt was flawed before or during the paving of the taxiway.
The Douglas Asphalt plant should have been able to screen out the organic matter in the asphalt, but sometimes the screens develop holes through wear and tear and the contaminants can slip through, Mayle said.
The plant should have caught the error though, and with the high level of contamination, the inspectors should have caught it too, he said.
“When the asphalt comes out of the trucks, it is coated with oil, and it is hard to see things like hay and twigs in isolated instances,” Mayle said. “But with this level of contamination, the inspectors should have caught the error during the construction period.”
The repaving of the taxiway will cost $3.1 million, and the county is trying to settle with Douglas’ surety, Arch Insurance, to recover its money, Brown said.
But the county will most likely only recoup two million and change, and the development authority, Hinesville and the county will probably have to invest an additional $300,000 in taxpayer money to cover the bill, Chief Financial Officer Kim McGlothlin said.
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