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Work complete on airport north ramp project

At last, Archuleta County’s Stevens Field has an improved north ramp where visiting pilots can safely park airplanes.

The draft minutes from a June 17 meeting of the Archuleta County Airport Advisory Commission (AAC) reflect progress toward significant enhancements to the airplane-parking apron, which had been a bone of contention among visiting pilots for years. The ramp sits just north of the midfield apron, adjacent to the fixed base operations building at midfield.

Since early 2006, at least, the ramp’s fragile asphalt surface had deteriorated considerably, with loose gravel posing increasing risks to aircraft engines. Eventually, aircraft owners would only park planes there if the fixed base operator towed them to and from the midfield apron immediately south.

There was no parallel taxiway or suitable road between aprons at the time and to move planes from one to the other required use of the actual runway. In the eyes of the Federal Aviation Administration, that posed serious safety concerns, while effectively closing the airport every time.

In 2006, early ramp repair estimates approached $55,000, but only included a simple overlay of the existing surface. While county and airport personnel doubted such a fix would last, there was no allocation in the county budget for ramp repairs, and the federal government denied grant requests for that purpose.

In 2007, however, the Colorado Department of Transportation, Aeronautical Division (CDOT) extended the county a $44,000 grant for detailed ramp repairs, as modern cost estimates climbed to $349,000. In 2008, CDOT endowed another $235,118, provided the county contributed 20-percent matching funds, or $69,882.

By mid-June of this year, Strochecker Asphalt and Paving (of Pagosa Springs) had installed “crack seal” over the entire ramp surface — an area estimated at 9,600 square yards, or roughly 290 feet by 300 feet.

Before laying down a final three-inch layer of asphalt, a thickness of fabric called “petrol mat” was applied to all but a 60-foot strip along the ramp’s east side. Due to budget constraints, that strip received only crack seal and not the fabric or final asphalt layer.

By Wednesday of last week, airplane tie-downs had been installed and the entire project was complete. Now, particularly with the 2008 addition of a parallel taxiway, pilots can safely taxi between the midfield and north ramps without use of the runway, while resting assured that aircraft parked on the north ramp are no longer vulnerable to undue hazards.

As part of future north ramp improvements, necessary conduits have recently been installed that will enable future relocation of a self-serve fuel tank (and related electrical distribution system) that now sits near the southwest corner of the FBO building.

Engineers estimate the eventual tank relocation and installation of a light pole near the north ramp will cost around $35,000 to $40,000. Depending on available funding, airport manager Bill McKown believes the move could come sometime in 2014.

In other airport-related projects, the parking lot at Nick’s Hangar and the county Emergency Operations Center is now being paved with asphalt, with work also being done by Strochecker Asphalt and Paving. As the first of two phases of improvements to the EOC, that project will cost $97,586.