Regional airport safety project nears completion

WILLIAMSTOWN – Officials with the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport are looking forward to the end of the Runway Area Safety Project following years of delays and problems.

“Right now, construction is expected to begin sometime this month (September) with a completion date of the end of the year,” said airport manager Jeff McDougle.

The project includes the creation of a 500-foot safety area on either end of the runway along light towers to extend the visual of the runway by 2,400 feet. The lights, when activated, will give pilots a visual area for approach and landing that is not available after dark, McDougle said.

“This is an intricate and very precise light display for pilots that the majority of general aviation, regional airports don’t have,” he added. “It will be a great asset once it is completed and turned on.”

When it began, the safety project was decreed by the Federal Aviation Administration with West Virginia being the first state having completed those at the state’s federally obligated airports.

Work is being done by Jess Howard Electric Company from Blacklick, Ohio, which is the third contractor to tackle the project since ground was broken in August 2006. In 2012, Rifenberg Construction was chosen to complete the project, but because the finished work was not signed off on by the FAA, it was not deemed complete. Delta Airport Consultants has remained as the engineering firm on this project from the beginning, having worked with all three contractors – Mountaineer Grading, Rifenberg Construction and now Jess Howard Electric.

“Delta is continuing to work as our engineer,” McDougle said. “They are the one constant on this project, other than our facility.”

Now, to bring the project up to code to be approved by the FAA, more work needs to be done.

“Because it has just sat for so long, there have been changes to the specifications that need to be made before it can be turned on,” McDougle said.

Why the project took more than three times its expected two years of expected construction is anyone’s guess, according to McDougle.

Work began on the Runway Area Safety Project in 2006 and it has has been riddled with complications since, including the original contractor, Mountaineer Grading, having cut back on work and eventually abandoned the project by August 2011 and a lawsuit against the airport by the contractor for breach of contract.

As of last month, Wood County Airport Authority president and local attorney Bill Richardson said he and McDougle are working to resolve the suit, which was brought by Mountaineer Grading against the local facility in November 2012 for breach of contract and blaming the facility on the demise of a contractor.

“We look at this as a resolution we can tolerate just so we can move onward and upward,” Richardson said in early August.

Through the years, many issues have caused the project to sputter and stop.

“A lot of things have come up in the time since ground was broken on the project,” said McDougle. “In fact, this project has been going on longer than my predecessor was here.”

Last October, McDougle was chosen by the Wood County Airport Authority, the managing arm of the facility, to replace former manager and now board member Terry Moore, who began his tenure running the airport in 2007. McDougle began as the airport manager in January when Moore officially retired from the position.

While the majority of the construction has been completed, the current work will focus more on the alignment of the dozens of lights.

“The work that still needs to be done is mainly electrical,” McDougle said. “All of the earthwork is done and now its all about getting things into alignment.”

From the beginning, this project was funded by grants with the 2012 work funded by a payout from Mountaineer Grading’s bonding company, Travelers Insurance, as the construction business was found to be in default after leaving the site for more than a year. A total cost of the more than eight year job is unknown, as more charges are being added daily, McDougle said.

“When all is said and done, a total will be available, but right now, we have no idea how much this project has cost,” he said.