Runway shortened at Sawyer

MARQUETTE – The Marquette County Board voted unanimously Tuesday to back a plan to shorten the runway at Sawyer International Airport by 3,366 feet, increase the fee for lost airport parking tickets and approve a $2,000 grant to offset the cost of federally-required airport training exercises.

Under a plan recommended by airport officials, the length of the 150-foot-wide runway will be reduced from 12,366 feet to 9,000 feet and the length of an adjacent taxiway will also be shortened. Airport officials hope to keep the runway at its current length through 2016, while funding is sought to renovate the remaining portions of the runway before closing the north end.

“It’s a good plan,” county board Chairman Gerald Corkin said.

An estimated $870,000 from Airport Improvement Program and Passenger Facility Charge funding will be used to pay for moving navigational aids, repainting the runway and completing other work involved in shortening the runway.

“In 2011, the FAA informed Sawyer International Airport that federal funding would no longer support repair or construction on the north 3,366 feet of the runway, including the north section of Taxiway A,” said Sawyer Operations Manager Steve Schenden in a recent memo. “The county could continue to operate the full length of the runway, but all repair and construction costs would have to be funded by Sawyer International Airport for the section of runway proposed to be closed.”

Sawyer International Airport Manager Duane DuRay said the airport will still be able to comfortably accommodate “just about any commercial aircraft that would ever consider flying into Sawyer.”

Closing the north part of the runway and taxiway would be expected to cut maintenance costs by $15,000 to $20,000 each year. The north and south ends of the runway are concrete, the center section is asphalt 30 years old.

The Airport Advisory Committee concurred with the airport staff recommendation to begin the process of closing the north end of the runway now.

Airport officials have asked the Michigan Department of Transportation about the possibility of using money from a potential $1.5 million state grant, for other necessary projects at the airport. Sawyer officials have received preliminary approval for $220,000 to repair and upgrade fire suppression and fire alarm systems in three buildings currently leased by American Eagle.

“The project would increase safety for American Eagle workers and add to the value of those buildings as a maintenance, repair and overhaul facility for an airline,” Schenden said. “The project would require a 10 percent match, which would come from the airport’s stabilization fund.”

The county board approved a staff recommendation to increase the lost ticket fee for parking at the airport from $35 to $50. The Airport Advisory Committee supported the hike, which was designed to help stop people from potentially “gaming the system” at the airport.

Lost ticket charges are reimbursed if a lost ticket charge receipt and travel itinerary are provided, showing travelers had a vehicle parked in the airport lot for less than seven days.

“Records indicate there has been an increase in lost ticket transactions and staff feel many of these transactions are from customers who have been in the parking lot longer than the seven days a lost ticket represents,” Schenden said. “There are typically 10 to 15 lost ticket transactions per month.

“With the increase in lost ticket transactions, staff have not seen an increase in request for reimbursements, leading to the belief that some customers are taking advantage of the system.”

The board also voted to authorize receiving a $2,000 Michigan Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Grant designed to offset in-house costs for annual training excercises required by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The grant will reduce Sawyer’s $5,300 direct expense by 38 percent.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.