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Airport Board assured drainage issues to be resolved

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

When Aviation Indiana brings its spring meeting to Marlatt Field, local officials hope the new airport runway will be the center of attention, not the drainage issues that have emerged around it – and in some cases submerged neighboring fields.

Monday, New Castle-Henry County Board of Aviation officials seemed encouraged that 13 major issues of incomplete or improper contractor work are on their way to being addressed.

Woolpert Engineering, an Indianapolis firm that’s been working with the local airport for many years, had not one, but two representatives at Monday’s meeting in a sincere effort to rectify the problems. A Feb. 7 executive meeting along with a behind-closed-doors session before Monday’s regular meeting left some of the board’s most out-spoken critics pleased.

“We had a good meeting,” said BoAC member Keith Pritchett, who had called the drainage issues unacceptable. “The executive session went well. Woolpert came to the table and was real positive. I think everybody’s got the same focus in mind.”

Issues ranged from ponding and washouts on adjacent property to foreign-object debris and trash, unacceptable erosion-control methods and improper grading. 

“We have been in communication with Boyd (one of the four contractors on the project),” said John Baer, a project manager and aviation-design associate with Woolpert. “They have acknowledged a handful of items that still need to be addressed. We are working with them to come up with a plan to move forward with those items – sooner rather than later.”

“Water on the taxi way needs to be addressed really quickly,” Pritchett said.

“We know you guys have the quarterly Aviation Indiana meeting here in April,” Baer said. “We’re going to do everything we possibly can to get these things addressed before then.”

The Aviation Indiana quarterly meeting is scheduled here Thursday, April 18. The organization chose New Castle as the site because of the new runway.

Monday’s meeting was also attended by Christopher Snyder, Woolpert’s aviation design vice president.

“There’s a lot that has happened certainly since the runway has opened,” Snyder said. “With the weather and how things hit, I think we’re anxious to get back out there and get a lot of problems addressed with all the different contractors and put a bow on it all. We need to sit down with all the contractors and get a good plan and a focus. Then it shouldn’t take too long to get done what needs to be done.”

In addition to Boyd, three other contractors were involved with the project –O’Mara, Michiana and 3-D.

Until problems are resolved, the board agreed to table contractor Michiana’s request for payment of $198,295.26. The bulk of that money – $178,466 – comes from the Federal Aviation Administration. Another $9,914.77 will be paid by the Indiana Department of Transportation. The local match will be $9,914.49.

The ripple effect of poor drainage caused damage to neighboring fields owned by Ivan Chew and the Marlatt family. Monday, board members learned that approximately $10,000 would be paid to Chew and about $3,000 to the Marlatts by Boyd, the contractor deemed responsible for the damage.

Airport Manager John Marlatt said while the Chew property was damaged primarily by water issues, his family’s ground was impacted more by Boyd equipment driving back and forth over it.

Snyder said the plan is to start the remediation work in mid- or late March.

“I don’t want to rush it,” Snyder said. “I want to be clear on that. The more we can get done in a nice, organized fashion, the better. Otherwise, contractors are going to be working on top of each other and we’re going to make another big mess.”

More improvements planned at airport

The dream of extending Marlatt Field's runway to 5,000 feet is now on paper.

Officials with the New Castle-Henry County Board of Aviation Commission learned Monday the extension was on the 2019-2024 Capital Improvement Plan. It is planned for fiscal year 2022.

Land acquisition for new hangars, an apron expansion, a new building for snow removal equipment are also part of the plan.

Construction of new airport hangars was said to be a priority for New Castle Mayor Greg York, who believes they can be easily rented to pilots he knows are interested. Land aquisition for that is planned later this year.

Officials emphasize there is currently no plan for the city or county to construct any hangers. The idea is that individuals would build their own hangers on ground leased to them by the airport. Many airports have such a program.

The board learned that design and construction of an apron expansion and a snow removal equipment building are both planned for fiscal year 2020.

Board member Keith Pritchett said the capital improvement plan was filled with good news for New Castle and all of Henry County.

"I'm excited to see us move forward," Pritchett said. "The runway extension gives us the capacity for Lear jets to come and land here. The hangars we have now are very old. Having a space to park a jet in a nice hangar is important for pilots who want to come here and spend the night, so their investment won't be left out in the snow."

BoAC member Tom Green cautioned, however, that the Capital Improvement Plan is not set in stone.

"It's like a Christmas gift list," Green said. "We can list what items we would like and what would make us happy and in what order we would like them. Santa Claus ( the FAA) will give us what he thinks is appropriate given our current and future use profile."

Discussion also continues on adding a courtesy car to the local airport that pilots and their families can use to drive from the airport to area motels if they want to spend the night.