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County re-bids airport project

Photo courtesy Tom Fowler
This photo, taken in August of 2012, shows ongoing construction work at the Ashe County
Airport before the project's winter shutdown.

Originally published: Jan. 31, 2013
Last modified: Jan. 31, 2013

Adam Orr

Unanticipated changes, including an underground stream and more rock than predicted, has forced county government to re-bid the final stages of the runway lengthening project at the Ashe County Airport, according to Ashe County Manager Pat Mitchell. 

In a briefing to the Ashe County Board of Commissioners on Jan. 22, Mitchell said the approaching winter months and lack of suitable materials initially forced Vannoy General Contractors into an additional shutdown in October of 2012. 

“During the winter shutdown, Vannoy has been monitoring the site and any potential erosion that may need to be repaired prior to restarting in spring,” said Mitchell. 

According to Mitchell, state and Federal Aviation Administration officials determined that, “due to additional work previously added to the contract, the remaining work for the site preparation project and the paving and landing project, need to be bid as one package which would require the closure of our existing site prep contract and the project.” 

Mitchell said the county had worked with Vannoys through a number of change orders that modified the first contracts parameters.

“We ran into problems, including an underground stream, that until we started doing work over there, we were not aware was there,” said Mitchell in a Jan. 29 interview. “(The North Carolina Division of Natural Resources) had to come and classify that stream, and since we couldn’t go in the area, that delayed us, and ultimately affected (dirt) removal to some degree.”

In addition to the stream, Mitchell said the project had encountered more rock than anticipated by the projects engineers. 

“We had to do some additional blasting, as well as fixing considerable erosion,” said Mitchell. “Though we’re over-contract on our first project with Vannoy's, (the work) is still being funded with grant dollars but...the FAA is wanting us to close out (the original) contract.” 

Mitchell said she had originally hoped to continue the original contract with Vannoys, but after consulting with officials from the North Carolina Department of Transportation Aviation Division (DOTAD), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), she was told with federal dollars funding the project, the county needed to cease the original contract. 

“Because of that federal money coming in, they wanted us to cease the existing order and roll the changes into a new contract,” said Mitchell. 

Now, the county must re-open the bidding to finish the remainder of the work. 

“The Vannoys are obviously aware of that; we’ve had meetings with Vannoy’s, and they are in the process of final inspection and closing that contract out at this time,” said Mitchell. 

Closing the original contract includes a final inspection and repairs to the site before final paving. 

“All that is currently in the works with our engineers and Vannoy,” said Mitchell, who also told commissioners the next contract would finalize the remaining earthwork at the site and bring the runway site to grade, would include erosion and sediment control protections, and will include the paving and stone for the runway extension including lighting and electrical work. 

“The engineer expects it will probably be early April - they’re working on bid documents now - when you see us coming to (the Ashe County Board of Commissioners) with bid documents for the remainder of the project,” said Mitchell, who said the project could be completed in late summer or early fall. 

According to a consulting report issued by the North Carolina DOTAD, the Ashe County Airport is responsible for approximately $32 million per year in total economic impact, and affects approximately 220 county jobs, as well as more than $220,000 per year in tax revenue from airplanes and hangars housed at the airport. 

Ashe County Airport Manager Eric Payne told commissioners on Jan. 22, that fuel sales had declined slightly in 2012, after the airports runway’s threshold had been shortened in August due to safety concerns at the construction site. 

“When you (lower the runway threshold), your jet traffic doesn’t come in because of the shortened runway,” said Payne. “I actually think we would have increased (fuel) sales if we didn’t have to do that.”

Ashe County Commissioner Judy Poe told Payne that it was good to see revenue flowing to the county from the airport, instead of the reverse. 

“I know I’ve said this before, but we’ve always spent money on the airport, so it’s nice to see some money coming back to the county,” said Poe. 

Currently, the Ashe County Airport runway is approximately 4,300 feet in length, and 75 feet wide. When the construction project is completed, the runway will total more than 5,000 feet in length, with an additional 300 feet of emergency overrun that will offer pilots an additional margin of safety. 

The project, which first began in October of 2011, was made possible through a $2.5 million matching grant - with Ashe County’s 10 percent matched by 90 percent in the grant - from the N.C. DOTAD funneled from the federal government. 

For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.