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MEEKER I Starting April 8, Meeker Airport will be closed for approximately seven months while Rio Blanco County carries out two projects to improve the runway area at the facility to what eventually may be a C2 rating.
The first project is to remove, replace and widen the existing runway from 65 feet wide to 100 feet wide, and return it to its full length of 6,500 feet. A second project will begin this summer to construct an apron adjacent to the runway.
Samantha Lopez, the county’s airport projects coordinator, said the runway will be closed to all airplane traffic so work can continue on the runway portion of the $12 million project. The second part of the project will cost roughly $2.9 million.
The runway reconstruction is funded through a 90 percent grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FDA), a 5 percent grant from the state and a 5 percent match from Rio Blanco County.
As soon as the current landing strip is closed, the runway will be milled and earth work will continue, Lopez said.
In some areas, the contractor is lowering the dirt to 25 feet below the current runway, she said. When complete, the new runway, using the current runway’s center line, will be widened 50 feet in both directions to reach the 100-foot width.
Rio Blanco County Administrator Kimberly Bullen said Meeker Airport has seen an increase in the number of larger private and corporate jets.
“This is quite a significant project for us,” Bullen said. “It could mean a tremendous increase in use, which benefits all of us here as well as the corporations or individuals using the airport.”
Phase 1 included earth work at the north end of the runway with no interruptions to air traffic, Lopez said.
Phase 2 began Sept. 1, she said, and consisted of shortening the runway to 4,460 feet to continue the dirt work and to replace storm drains under the runway beyond the 4,460-foot mark.
More than 1 million cubic yards of dirt will be removed for the project, Lopez said, and the entire excavation will be filled in with a level of compaction to withstand the weight of larger planes.
Project manager Jeremy McAlister of GDA Engineers of Cody, Wyo., said the new runway will not receive the official C2 rating because there is land near the airport that is inside the “object-free area” that does not belong to the county and that the land has impediments that can’t be removed without the county purchasing that land. He said the county hopes to eventually obtain that land.
McAlister explained that the FAA runway rating utilizes two figures, hence the current B2 rating. The letter pertains to the approach speed of the airplane and the number pertains to the wing span. The lower the letter and the number, the smaller the plane.
The reason the airport was shortened to 4,460 feet in the fall was to install storm drains at approximately the 4,500-foot mark and to accommodate Medivac flights, McAlister said.
“We wanted to give these Medivac emergency flights as much runway as possible,” he said.
Lopez said the apron project is funded 90 percent by the state and 10 percent by the county.
That project is still in the design phase, she said, adding that once the design is completed and the bidding process is finalized, the state will award the grant for the apron construction — provided it is within the budget.
McAlister said the apron bids will be sent out in early summer. If the bids are within budget, the large apron construction will begin in mid-summer and run concurrent with the runway project. All work is expected to be complete by the end of October.
“We wanted to avoid having to close the airport more than once, so we combined these two projects into the one closure, and that should make it more convenient for everyone,” McAlister said.
He said that when the project is complete, the runway and the apron will be much stronger, the drainage under the end of the runway and along the sides will be more efficient and the runway will be flatter to accommodate larger planes.
“This isn’t a ‘build it and they will come’ situation,” McAlister said. “The larger planes are already landing here. We are making this a safer and stronger airport and runway, and the county, its residents and those corporate planes and private individuals flying into Meeker all gain.”