Second of three stories
Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport – Photo by
The Executive Director of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport Authority spent over 30 minutes at the November 13, 2008 meeting of the South Fork Reservoir Stewardship Task Force explaining why the airport likely cannot use dredged material as part of a project to extend its runway. Barbara Hutchison was asked to appear to respond to the proposal that sediment removed from the reservoir could be sold or given to the airport, reducing the cost of dredging to the community.
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Hutchison began her talk by explaining about the unique organizational structure of the airport, which was founded in 1955 as a joint operation of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. The City and County formed an authority to operate the airport in 1983. Since then, the Authority is a political subdivision of the state that operates as a private business. The airport’s primary source of revenue comes from parking fees, airline rates and charges, and fees paid by rental cars. There is no local funding from the City and the County. Other funding comes to the Authority from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Virginia Department of Aviation through the
Airport Improvement Program
, which offers assistance with securing grants for a variety of projects. Hutchison said securing money through that program can be unpredictable.
The runway extension project first appeared on an airport master plan in 2003, and the County incorporated it into its comprehensive plan in 2004. The environmental assessment process for the extension and 8 other projects began in 2005. The airport began planning how to pay for the project in 2006 when it was approved, in part, by the FAA and the Virginia Department of Aviation.
“Our battle at that point was how to move forward with the FAA and the state agency for funding purposes,” Hutchison said. “While they approved the project in theory… they still have only dedicated very limited funds to the project.”
In the spring of this year, Hutchison said she started receiving inquiries from companies who wanted to sell her the dredged material. In order to investigate that possibility, Hutchison said the airport authority used unspent state funding to conduct preliminary engineering for the project, which should be completed by December of this year. She said that Phase 1A, as the initial stage is called, will involve relocating the airport’s internal road. Dirt moved in that endeavor will be stockpiled for the future extension of the runway. The preliminary engineering report, which is being conducted by Delta Airport Consultants, is also looking into potential sites where the remainder would come from. A total of 2.5 million cubic yards of usable fill material is estimated to be required.
“The good news for us but potentially the bad news for the task force is that we have found a considerable amount on-site,” Hutchison said. She added the preliminary engineering report estimates that as much as 2.6 million cubic yards can be found on-site.
Hutchison said there are other regulatory hurdles to using dredged material. First, the FAA heavily regulates how airports raise money, and strictly enforces a rule that says any money raised by an airport must go to a use that is clearly for aviation use. Hutchison said that may prevent the airport from buying dredged material. Second, the airport would have to put any project to receive fill material out to bid, and would be obligated to buy from the lowest bidder. The winner might not necessarily be the one who wins the contract from the RWSA to dredge the reservoir. Hutchison acknowledged that a partnership could be worked out in theory, but she doubted that based on her experience.
Hutchison also addressed a suggestion made by Joe Mooney, a member of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, that the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport could follow an example set by the Philadelphia International Airport. That facility used dredged material from the Delaware River to build an extension, and Mooney has cited it frequently over the past year. Hutchison said an “apples to apples” comparison between the two airports could not be made for several reasons:
“While we would like to be a player, we wouldn’t recommend [the Task Force] make decisions based on our projects because we don’t know when or if [the runway extension project] will receive full funding from the state and the FAA,” Hutchison said. “We’ve never been opposed, we just don’t have the information to be able to intelligently say if we could participate.”