Plans to rebuild and repave the Challis Airport runway and taxiway, install a new runway lighting system and finish updates to a precision approach path indicator to help pilots maintain the proper landing approach are moving forward, but it’s still up in the air whether federal grant funding will come through this year.

Kent Atkins of JUB Engineering updated the Challis City Council on the airport project last month.

Atkins has submitted draft safety and design reports to the Federal Aviation Administration and is awaiting the agency’s response. Funding is still uncertain for this year but would probably be available in fiscal year 2020, Atkins said.

Part of Atkins’ plan includes installing utility sleeves or conduits under the runway, taxiway and tarmac before repaving. That would allow water or electric lines to be installed without having to tear up the new asphalt.

“We don’t want to tear up a $3 million runway,” Mayor Mike Barrett said.

“Any time we put in new asphalt, I always put in sleeves so we don’t have to tear up a new runway,” Atkins said. “You might never use them, but …”

It’s not good to have an automated GPS approach system to help pilots land in poor visibility, only for them to discover on touchdown that there’s a herd of elk on the runway, Councilman Chuck Felton said.

Talk of safety fencing for the airport perimeter to keep out animals is good and fencing is needed, Atkins said, but it probably shouldn’t be included in plans for the current FAA grant.

“I have that on another capital improvement plan,” Atkins said. “My advice is to put (fencing) in your back pocket and see how the funding unfolds. I’d caution you on muddying the water on the fence. Do the approach first, then the fencing.”

The city deserves kudos for being aggressive with airport and infrastructure improvements, Atkins said. He pointed out it’s unusual to be approved for a zero-match FAA grant as for this project.

Phasing in construction is important, Atkins reminded the council. To that end, he’s met with airport commissioners Pete Nelson, Tom Pettit and Steve Bauchman on a plan that will allow pilots to take off and land on the taxiway when the runway work is being done and vice versa. That way, the airport is never shut down.

“We need to keep Pete and Middle Fork Aviation in business,” Atkins said. He reminded the council it’s good to go after FAA funding, but not to shut down the airport and a key piece of the Challis economy.

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