Commission Examines $7M In Proposed Airport Improvements

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Airport , Municipal Finance

A new administration building is one of the items on the Chatham Airport's capital improvement plan. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM – A proposed capital improvement plan for the Chatham Municipal Airport calls for more than $7 million in expenditures through 2025, with almost all of the funding coming from the state and federal governments.

Among the big-ticket items in the plan are the reconstruction of the airport's parallel taxiway, a new airport administration building, and an update of the airport's master plan.

Most of the items, however, are basically placeholders. More than a few years into the plan, both the funding and the timing of projects are less certain.

The plan is mandated by both the Federal Aviation Administration and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT). Airport Commission Chairman Peter Donovan and members Tom Wilson and Rene Haas met with MassDOT officials to discuss the plan in Boston Oct. 4. Under the cost sharing formula for airport projects, federal money covers 90 percent of most projects, with the state and town each contributing 5 percent.

The two largest projects on the plan are the taxiway reconstruction and the new administration building. The taxiway work is estimate at $2,225,000, with federal funds covering $2 million of the cost, along with contributions of $111,250 each from the town and state.

The existing taxiway is more than 20 years old and has exceeded its designed lifespan, said Airport Manager Tim Howard. It is cracking and failing in numerous spots. The work is slated for fiscal 2019; Howard said there's a 50-50 chance it will be done that year.

The FAA does not cover the cost of administration buildings, so the estimated $3,974,900 cost of replacing the airport's aging main building is mainly shouldered by the state, which will pay $3,784,000 with the town contributing the remaining $190,900. The administration building is scheduled for fiscal year 2023, but the state has yet to budget the money.

The town's share of most of the projects on the capital plan from $150,000 in non-primary entitlement funds the airport is allocated annually by the FAA. The allocation can be loaned to other airports in years Chatham is not using it, or borrow from other airports when a project here exceeds the annual allocation.

The town can also appropriate funds from its airport revolving account, obtain grants or seek taxpayer support through town meeting articles to fund capital improvement projects, Howard said.

Updating the airport's master plan along with conducting a wildlife hazard assessment and aeronautical study are scheduled for fiscal 2018 at a total cost of $237,778. The update is mostly a matter of revising language and reprioritizing items in the previous master plan, which was last updated in 2003. Airport commission members thought the figure was high for an update, which Principal Projects Administrator Terry Whalen said would extend the plan's life by more than the usual five-year revision period. A full update, Donovan said, was estimated by the town's consultants Gale Associates at about $350,000.

The town's share of the update cost would be $11,889. Representatives of Gale will attend the commission's November meeting to discuss the update.

Commission members were interested in moving upgrades to the airport approach from 2021 to a more immediate date. The item carries no cost; Howard explained that it is a safety measure involving updating topography and other maps that will allow planes to land in more marginal weather than is currently allowed. The information already exists, he said, but the airport must show the FAA that certain qualifications are met, after which the agency will issue new procedures for approach and landing at the airport.

“They won't do it until you qualify,” Howard said. The change would have “the greatest safety impact” of any of the capital items, Haas said.

A $125,000 item was added to 2019 for purchase of a Bobcat machine to maintain brush clearing along the perimeter of the airport. Currently the airport has no way to maintain cleared brush along the fence. The town's cost would be $25,000, with the state picking up the rest. Not having to contract out brush clearing would cover the cost of the machine in a matter of years, Donovan said.

Other items on the capital improvement plan included reconstructing the turf tie-down area in 2022 at $166,667; perimeter fencing in 2024 at $150,000; and T-hangar construction in $150,000.