Airport reopens with resurfaced runway, taxiway

Posted 7/2/20

The Jefferson County International Airport is back in service as of Thursday evening after a seven-week project to reconstruct the runway that closed it to all fixed-wing air traffic.

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Airport reopens with resurfaced runway, taxiway

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The Jefferson County International Airport is back in service as of Thursday evening after a seven-week project to reconstruct the runway that closed it to all fixed-wing air traffic.

“On behalf of the Port’s JCIA tenants, the pilot community, and the community – we are thrilled that the JCIA is again fully open for public use,” Eric Toews, deputy director of the Port of Port Townsend, wrote in an email to The Leader.

Initially scheduled to end June 14 after six weeks of construction, the project included the demolition and reconstruction of the single east-west runway and relocation of the midfield taxiway. Grading, drainage, lighting, electrical and signage modifications were also needed, according to the Port’s online overview.

The Port contracted Scarsella Brothers Inc., based in Seattle, to reconstruct the runway. The company has done similar work in the past, including the 2012 adjustment of the runway at Skagit Regional Airport in Burlington, WA.

The crew began working May 4 but ran into complications when a geotechnical analysis found that the subgrade and subbase under the runway did not meet FAA requirements. The wet clay underneath wouldn’t compact, Toews said. This delayed the project, as the crew needed to build up a subgrade and subbase that met compaction standards.

This setback was followed by rainy days that prevented paving on schedule. 

“That comes with the territory of doing work in spring in the Pacific Northwest,” Toews said. “They did a fantastic job.”

The opening date was then moved to Wednesday, June 23. On Monday, a status update was released that revealed the Port’s airport engineer found areas of pavement that did not meet specifications in terms of “cracking, rutting and depressions,” extending the closure until June 26 at midnight. 

The airport ended up opening about 28 hours ahead of that schedule, with temporary remedies in place for the pavement issues that will be resolved fully with “permanent corrective measures” in September, Toews wrote in a later email to The Leader.

In an email obtained by The Leader, Gary Lanthrum, president of the Jefferson County Pilots Association, wrote to members at 7:51 p.m. June 25 that the airport would be opened “around 8 p.m.” 

“If all goes well, some folks will be able to fly back to (and out of) Jefferson County tonight,” Lanthrum wrote.

Port Commissioner Pete Hanke was the first pilot to land on the new runway just after it opened Thursday night, returning from the nearby Diamond Point airport.

The airport, which Toews estimated sees around 26,000 flight operations annually, was due for resurfacing. It had been in place for about 30 years, he said, which is on the longer side of a typical lifespan for such a runway.

“It will be a really nice new surface that will last for decades to come,” Toews said.

The Port and Scarsella Brothers agreed on an approximately $3 million contract, subject to change orders. The change order for compacting the subgrade brought project costs closer to $3.5 million.

The reconstruction was almost completely funded through grants from the Federal Aviation Administration.

In the days following the reopening, the airport was bustling with activity. After weeks of being open only for helicopter air ambulance traffic, fixed-wing aircraft flooded the field. This was not only good for breaking in the runway, but also provided customers for the businesses on the airport.

The Spruce Goose Cafe, an airport diner and fly-in favorite, was open during the construction but saw dramatically reduced numbers exacerbated by social distancing guidelines.

“We missed all of our pilots,” said co-owner Andrea Raymor. 

At least 50 percent of the restaurant’s business on sunny days comes from people flying in, Raymor explained. 

“It’s been rough,” co-owner Chris Cray said. “It’s definitely a lot slower without the airplanes.”

The Port Townsend Aero Museum was quiet during construction. The museum employs more than a dozen teenage volunteers, many of whom are working toward their private pilot’s certificate. 

Now that Jefferson County is in Phase Two of reopening, youth volunteers have returned to the museum in limited numbers. With the runway open, they’re able to fly again, too.

Aurora Aircraft Maintenance has been open throughout the airport closure, but owner Scott Erickson said that his workload has increased tremendously since the runway opened. 

“It’s great having pilots returning to the air,” Erickson wrote in a message to The Leader. “You can tell they miss flying.”

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