"Airport Moving Day:" DEP Fines Continue to Mount

By: Matt de Nesnera Email
By: Matt de Nesnera Email

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has fined the Airport Authority $116,000 for water quality violations after heavy rains in early May. The airport has been accruing daily fines up to $2,000 since January 1, 2010, for two other continuing violations, bringing the total of this round of fines to almost $400,000.

Those fines will continue to mount until the airport's storm water drainage system is corrected, which officials say won't be in time for this weekend's grand opening.

Crews are continuing to move mountains of filtration sand to "Pond C." The retention pond wasn't up to DEP specifications; in late April, airport board officials voted to pay contractor Phoenix Construction nearly $2 million to correct the problem.

"As long as we're working on the pond to a design that reaches specifications the DEP approved, we're probably going to be okay," Airport Authority Chairman Joe Tannehill, Sr., said after an April board meeting.

Since construction began, some nearby residents voiced concerns about storm water runoff after heavy rains. They complained dirt and silt from the site trickled into creeks and the bay.

"These creeks are normally pristine. Now, in a day, or two, if we don't get any more rain, it'll be back to normal color," said Crooked Creek resident Tony Bryson. "The problem is, how much can the creek take before it can't fight back anymore?"

Airport board officials confirm Pond C won't be online by the May 23 opening. They are expecting daily DEP fines for a portion of the project that's already over-budget.

Tannehill says the drainage system will work once online. The board is holding a special meeting Wednesday morning to discuss the fix to the pond and the associated costs.

Last winter, DEP fined the airport for a breach that sent water off-site, and the board has forked over millions for extra sod to control erosion. There have also been mediation costs.

"We have spent several millions of dollars in attorney's fees on this project, which has gone not into the infrastructure of the project, providing better service, lower costs," Airport Authority Vice-Chairman Bill Cramer said after a March Airport Board meeting.

As crews continue to work to bring the drainage system online, they are putting the finishing touches on the terminal building.

Furniture and amenities, like a surfboard table with an internet connection hook-up, line the seven gates and waiting areas. New technology provides real-time flight-information updates from the airlines.

"At the existing airport, you see the marquee board on the back and it's put the numbers on there manually and you don't see anything change," said KBR Airport Relocation Manager Bill Holman. "We're coming back with new technology at a new airport and we'll see those flights tracking on a regular basis."

The new airport will also feature a military welcome center, with $60,000 of furniture donated by the manufacturer.

Local art will be lining the terminal building, as well. Holman says the photos show the best the region has to offer.

"We're a little early here for happy hour at the restaurant and bar, but there's a lot of us that have been building on this for quite some time," Holman said, leaning on a nearly finished bar at one of the terminal restaurants. "There are a few of us who are ready for a tall, cold adult beverage very soon."


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