Wednesday, December 14, 2005
City challenges airport development progress
New mayor pushes reviews of delays
By Michelle Miller
The Auburn (CA) Journal
Auburn’s Airport manager appears to be drawing some heat from the City Council, which has questioned delays on two airport projects. The airport’s master plan update is four months late and numerous design challenges have held up sending the East Hangar Development Area Project out to bid. Both projects are contracted through airport engineering and consulting firm Mead & Hunt.
During Monday night’s Auburn City Council meeting, Mayor Mike Holmes reiterated his request last week for a review of the airport within 90 days.
“The airport expansion and East Hangar Project have been stuck on the dime for too many years,” he said Tuesday. “We need to get the project moving. I’ve had many discussions with airport users who are really concerned about how the project is going to develop and move forward.”
During Monday’s meeting, Councilman Bob Snyder questioned Airport Manager Jerry Martin about when the East Hangar Project would go out to bid. The project would lay down taxiways and the basic infrastructure to accommodate 65 new hangars on the east side of the airport property.
Martin responded by saying he can’t answer because the bid was being administered through former Public Works Director Charley Clark.
“I’m surprised you’re not curious,” Snyder said. “We know things are delayed, but we never know when they are delayed to. Right now, I would never give another contract to Mead & Hunt.”
Martin said he understands the concerns of council members, although he added that the city’s Public Works Department handles some aspects of airport projects.
“It goes with the territory. I’m a one person operation out here and I believe in responsibility,” he said. “Some of the projects undertaken are out of my basic area of responsibility. I’m not an engineer or developer, so I have difficulty coming up with timetables and typical construction periods. I leave that up to the experts.”
The council first approved a contract with Mead & Hunt, then known as Shutt Moen & Associates, in 2001.
“There have been a myriad of reasons (for the delay), but it’s mostly due to PG&E requirements,” Martin said.
Concerns about an underground canal on the project site not being able to support the weight of fill dirt prompted a redesign, Martin said.
Design costs have risen from $33,300 to $209,000 with four amendments to Mead & Hunt’s contract over the last four years.
“People are quick to criticize the city when something’s been delayed, but there are significant reasons and challenges the project engineers have faced because we live in the foothills,” Martin said.
The project has already cost $2 million in design, engineering and construction to date, Martin said. A $790,000 Federal Aviation Administration grant will be applied to build taxiways and install lighting and drainage improvements.
The new hangars should address one of the most urgent needs the growing airport has.
“Our most critical need that is shared with every small airport is new hangar space,” Martin said. “Today’s airplane owner wants a sheltered space for their aircraft. They pay more money for the plane and they’re willing to pay extra money to protect that investment.”
That’s evident in the roughly 100 names on a waiting list Martin maintains for those interested in obtaining or building hangars in the East Hangar Development Area.
It is still unclear how many hangars the city will construct, with upfront costs that will be recouped in the leases, and how much space will be leased to developers to construct hangars, Martin said.
Snyder said Tuesday those discussions should be going on now.
“I’m trying to get the people who should be thinking about it thinking about it,” he said. “Those are decisions we could be talking about. … But I don’t see those things going on.”
Holmes thinks the decision should be made soon.
“Quite frankly, I don’t think the city needs to be in the business of renting individual hangars or leasing them,” he said. “The bureaucracy of maintaining that is something the city is not prepared to handle.”
The city also entered into a contract with Mead & Hunt in August 2004 to complete an airport master plan update. They committed to complete the update within 12 months.
The city is still awaiting an administrative draft of the master plan, which should be completed shortly, according to an e-mail from Mead & Hunt, Martin said.
“After letting the project languish longer than it should have, we are putting every effort into completing an administrative draft,” the e-mail read.
The master plan is important when seeking FAA funds. Any request for grants for airport projects must be in the airport’s master plan to qualify for FAA funds, Martin said. It will also guide the airport’s growth for the next 20 years, he said, as the airport seeks to attract more users and businesses.
Auburn Airport Manager Jerry Martin stands in front of the East Hangar Development Area, which has been flattened in preparation for construction of up to 65 new hangars.