CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail
Dale Mobley uses an excavator Wednesday to load material from a demolished house on Keystone Drive. Rodney Loftis, of Rodney Loftis & Son Contracting, said 11 of 18 structures affected by the March 12 safety-overrun slope failure at Charleston’s Yeager Airport have been torn down in the past week and a half.
Yeager Airport’s governing board has managed to self-finance the removal of unstable earth from the March 12 safety-overrun slope failure, but restoring the safety zone to its former elevation at a safer gradient could take years to study, finance, design and build.
On Wednesday, the board voted to proceed with a second and final phase of debris removal from the massive landslide, which will involve nearly 100,000 cubic yards of dirt and rock and the installation of erosion and sediment controls. The contractor for that project, S&E Clearing and Hydroseeding, has agreed to give the airport two years to pay for that work, in exchange for an increase in the dollars-per-yard removal rate.
The first phase of debris removal is nearly complete, with more than 110 feet of unstable earth having been removed from the top of the collapsed debris field.
Before the second phase of earth removal can begin, attorneys representing parties who have filed lawsuits over the slope failure need to reach an agreement — expected to come within the next two weeks — on how forensic tests to determine the cause of the slide should be conducted.
Yeager Airport paid for the first phase of debris removal by refinancing its parking garage bond issue.
Part of that money also went to pay for Schnabel Engineering to produce eight rebuild design options for the safety overrun. The airport board has pared the number of options to four, and the board’s construction committee will meet with representatives of the Virginia-based engineering firm on Nov. 10 to discuss the pros and cons of the four remaining rebuild options.
The Charleston airport plans to pay for rebuilding the slope with funds it anticipates recuperating from its insurance carrier and from the insurance carriers of the firms that designed and built the engineered-fill area involved in the collapse — litigation expected to take more than a year to resolve.
Board members learned Wednesday from their consulting engineering firm, L. Robert Kimball & Associates, that environmental clearances needed to proceed with rebuilding
the safety overrun could add months, or even years, to the project, depending on how far the selected rebuild option extends out of the footprint of the original safety zone.
For a rebuild scheme that doesn’t stray far from that footprint, an environmental assessment, which takes several months to complete, must be done to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. If rebuild design disturbs substantially more land, a full environmental-impact study could be required, potentially delaying the project for two or more years.
“We need to look at every option possible on how to build back that safety area,” board member Allen Tackett said. “It may even require looking at extending the other end of the runway.”
Terry Sayre, Yeager’s executive director, said representatives from L. Robert Kimball plan to take a look at the possibility of extending the Coonskin Park end of the runway, to accommodate a safety-overrun zone. Meanwhile, the board is scheduled to vote during its December meeting on which of the four Schnabel plans would be best for the airport.
In another development, the airport board voted to hire the aviation consulting firm Boyd Group International, of Evergreen, Colorado, to handle Yeager’s marketing program for the next year, including identifying the best airline to target for providing nonstop service to Orlando, Florida, using the $700,000 remaining in a federal Small Communities Air Service grant the airport received in 2013. Current marketing director Brian Belcher, who plans to retire at the end of this year, will not be replaced, Sayre said. The Boyd Group will receive $36,000 for its work, which will be paid from the $50,000 that remains in the airport’s marketing budget.
A plan forwarded by the airport’s finance committee to tap the state’s Rainy Day Fund to front the rebuilding costs for the safety overrun was not on Wednesday’s agenda.
“We need to know how much money we’re going to be asking for” before approaching Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the Legislature for cash from the reserve fund, Sayre said.
In other developments, Col. Johnny Ryan, commander of the Yeager-based 130th Airlift Wing, said Lt. Gen. Brad Heithold, commander of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, recently visited the Charleston Air National Guard Base, as well as the drop zones and dirt landing strip it maintains on reclaimed surface mines in Southern West Virginia.
“He was impressed,” Ryan said.
Among recent users of the dirt airstrip for training exercises and refueling at Yeager, he said, were three Israeli air force C-130s and their crews.