CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Crews at Charleston’s Yeager Airport can now begin emergency repairs to the hillside that collapsed at the end of the runway more than two years ago.
Yeager officials accepted a $13.5 million federal grant Monday at the top of the airport’s overrun safety area where the slip occurred March 12, 2015. The money will be used to help pay for the first phase of construction.
West Virginia’s congressional leaders announced the funding last week. U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.); along with Third District Congressman Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.) and a representative with Second District Congressman Alex Mooney’s office were on hand for Monday’s press conference and special airport board meeting.
Members of the Kanawha County Commission, airport board members and local and state officials were also at the event.
“For me, personally, it means a lot. It’s been a long two and half years and I’m thankful for all of their help,” said Yeager Airport Director Terry Sayre. “I wanted everyone to come out here and see what we were facing and what the contractor has to face.”
The slope failure destroyed a church and several homes in the area along Keystone Drive. Part of the airport’s EMAS (Engineered Material Arresting System) was destroyed. The EMAS system is a bed that sits at the end of a runway to reduce the risk of a runway excursion.
Manchin and Capito, who both serve on the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, said they knew it was crucial to push for immediate funding to make the necessary repairs.
“We oversee the the appropriations for transportation projects like the FAA, so I think we were well placed to really impress upon the FAA how critical this project was,” Capito told reporters. “Having a top notch airport with a great safety system is critical here. We’ve got to fix this.”
Jenkins said the money goes toward providing a safer environment for planes flying in and out of Yeager.
“As roads, our rivers, our rail and airports — it’s critical for economic development of the future and each of those need to be as safe as possible and today is about safety,” he said.
The construction project will likely create about 40-50 jobs, Sayre said. He’s hoping to get started as soon as possible.
“My hope is we’ll have a contractor here within the next two weeks drilling some core hole to see what the rock is down here and see how soon we can start construction,” Sayre said.
A retaining wall will be built where part of the EMAS slipped off. The first phase of the project will also include reducing the length of the runway where the slide occurred.
The long term goal is to extend the other end of the runway into Charleston’s Coonskin Park.
Manchin said the installation of a new EMAS bed is key to attracting people to the Mountain State.
“Without this safety extension, it would be hard for us to bring the carriers in. The people need to connect around the world, so this is very big for West Virginia and big for the economy of our entire state,” he said.