2011-06-25 / Top News

Airport Project To Begin in August

By Lauren Gibbons

The Mackinac Island Airport is slated to be closed from early September to December in a construction project that will begin in mid-August, residents learned when information on the project was presented to the public Wednesday, June 15, at Community Hall. Organizers of the project wanted to answer questions from the residential perspective, and make the public aware of the project’s goals and time schedule.

The airport is owned and managed by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission. Representatives from the commission, URS Engineers, Bacco Construction, and the Bureau of Aeronautics were present at the meeting.

Phil Porter, director of Mackinac State Historic Parks, said the project would resolve safety problems that currently exist at the airport, including issues with the line of sight, a small hump in the runway, and the distance from the runway to the safety zone on the west end of the site, as well as install new lighting and improve some airport features.

“The purpose of the project is to resolve multiple safety issues with Mackinac Island Airport, and at the same time to improve the infrastructure and facilities out there,” he said. “We’re going to go through some short-term pain in terms of construction on the island, but we are going to have a facility that will, at least for the next couple of decades, be infinitely superior in terms of safety, in terms of the quality, and will serve our community better.”

Bill Malinowski, project manager for the airport construction and a representative of URS Engineers, gave a presentation on the project outlining its goals, expected time schedule, costs, and other information.

The project is slated to be split up into four phases, with the first phase tentatively scheduled to begin Monday, August 15. The first and second phases will primarily consist of mobilization of small equipment to the island and limited construction work. The airport only will be closed during the third phase, which is scheduled to begin Tuesday, September 6. In early December, the airport will reopen for normal traffic, but the fourth phase of construction will continue into the spring and is scheduled to be completed May 28, 2012.

Funding for the $4.6 million project remains up in the air. The project is expected to be funded by state and federal governments, with no direct costs to the commission. While funding for the project has not yet been issued and is dependent on timing of the U.S. Congress, Mr. Malinowski said he’s been told the funds still are slated to arrive this year, and all parties involved are preparing to move forward with the project in the hopes that the money will come in on time. No work will begin on the project until the funds are received, he said.

The major focus of the project will be on safety: improving the line of sight, repairing a sinkhole to straighten out the runway, adjusting the airport so water runoff doesn’t fall into adjacent properties, and shifting the runway to make the safety zone bigger, but improving the overall quality and infrastructure of the airport also is a concern. The project is meant to be a long-term fix for the airport, Mr. Malinowski said, maximizing its life and improving it for those who use it frequently.

The new lights being added to the airport likely will reduce energy costs in the long term by up to $6,000 per year, and those involved with the project plan to reuse as much material currently on the airport as possible so less new material has to be imported to the Island and the project is as “green” as possible, he said.

“This is a green project,” Mr. Malinowski said. “It’s saving the cost of construction by requiring less people and material, and it’s a friendly way to rebuild this airport.”

Most of the cars, trucks, and construction material necessary for the project will be transported along British Landing Road, minimizing the construction’s impact on the downtown.

While a small number of trees will need to be cut down on the west side of the airport, most of the tree clearing necessary for the project was already completed last year, Mr. Malinowski said. He said the lighting would increase the visibility over the trees, and help keep as many trees as possible.

People raised questions about the logistics of straightening out the hump on the runway, the height of the light posts in terms of the tree line, and the ways runoff would be diverted so it didn’t go onto adjacent properties.

At one point, a few audience members raised the question of emergency accessibility to the airport.

Project engineer Jon Van- Duinen said a helipad was available for emergency situations, but private parties might be able to use it if the need arose and they got permission from airport officials and those working on the project.

Dennis Bradley, assistant manager of the Mackinac Island Airport, said the helipad was included in the project to anticipate for emergencies and necessary accessibility to and from the island that couldn’t be accomplished by another means of transportation. Unless a private party was granted special permission for use of the helipad, it would be reserved for such emergency uses only, because the airport will officially be closed during this time.

The airport’s current use will not be increased or expanded as a result of this project, Mr. Malinowski said. The size and types of aircraft allowed on the island will not change.

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