PORT ANGELES — The Port of Port Angeles has been given clearance to repave the main runway at William R. Fairchild International Airport, port commissioners heard last week.
A new study found that runway 08/26 meets Federal Aviation Administration standards and its approach path is free of obstructions, Airport Manager Dan Gase told commissioners Tuesday.
A geotechnical assessment by consultant Century West Engineering found that the existing runway is eligible for a “mill and overlay” rehabilitation rather than a far more costly reconstruction, Gase said.
The port will use federal funding to remove the top layer of asphalt and apply new asphalt to the 6,347-foot-long, 150-foot wide runway in 2022 or 2023.
“We’re looking at maintaining exactly what we have today,” said John Nutter, port director of property, marinas and airports.
Officials fought to keep the full length of the runway in the port’s airport master plan. Commissioners updated the plan with an FAA-approved layout in October.
The FAA agreed to fund a $5.5 million rehabilitation of 5,000 feet of the runway in 2022, Nutter said.
The port is seeking an additional $5 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, for a mill and overlay on the remainder of the runway and an extra layer of asphalt for the entire runway, which includes a displaced threshold for takeoff and roll out.
“We anticipate being able to accommodate C-130s and C-17s,” Nutter said.
Port officials have said the airport in west Port Angeles will be an emergency response hub after a major disaster such as the predicted magnitude-9.0 earthquake on the Cascadia subduction zone.
FAA officials had said they would fund only 3,850 feet of the runway if it required full reconstruction, Gase said.
Nutter said the runway rehabilitation may be delayed from 2022 to 2023 because the FEMA grant created “consternation” at the FAA.
“We have introduced the concept of having a potential FEMA grant that would be another $5 million to finish out the length and do additional weight-bearing capacity,” Nutter told the port commission.
“The FAA has kind of put a timeout on all this. They said ‘Well, we don’t want to engineer and design this project until we know exactly what it’s going to be.’”
The port was one of seven finalists out 99 that applied for the FEMA grant statewide, Nutter said. Grants will be awarded at the national level in June.
“The good news is from a state perspective, we have tremendous support,” Nutter said.
“The Washington State Aviation Division of DOT [Department of Transportation] sees us as one of the most important airports in the state.”
William R. Fairchild International Airport ranks No. 2 behind Paine Field in Everett for importance in the state, Nutter said.
“They look at bang for the buck,” Nutter said.
“We could potentially support all of the Olympic Peninsula clear down to Grays Harbor, because if we have a Cascadia [earthquake], the liquefaction and the tsunami is going to wipe out everything in the Grays Harbor area. It’s just gone. So we will potentially have a lot of area we are supporting.”
Nutter said the port considered separating the FAA and FEMA projects but opted to upgrade the runway in one project.
“There are huge economies of scale for doing a single design and a single construction project, whether it’s the cost of mobilization or it’s having to close the runway for more than multiple weeks,” Nutter said.
Nutter said the uncertainties at the federal level may push runway construction from 2022 to 2023.
“This isn’t bad news,” Nutter said.
“It’s worth another year to make sure we get everything we’re asking for.”
Meanwhile, Gase said tree tops at Lincoln Park east of the main runway are about 5 feet below the glide slope for runway 26.
The port has been working with the city of Port Angeles, which owns Lincoln Park, to remove trees in Lincoln Park before they pose a danger to aviators.
Forester Joe Murray analyzed the tops of trees that fell in Lincoln Park during a windstorm last December and determined that they were growing about 12 to 14 inches per year, Nutter said.
“They’re a little bit older, and so they grow a little bit slower,” Nutter said.
Port Commissioner Steve Burke said the slow growth rate will enable the port to “develop a more holistic approach” with the city.
“More to come on that,” Nutter said, “but the really good news was we have a clear approach as of today.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].