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Fuel system upgrade and addition of heli-base expected to benefit facility, as will a future runway improvement

PHOTO SUBMITTED BY KELLY COFFELT
 - The airport's new above-ground fueling system will save the facility money on insurance, inspections.

The Prineville Airport has seen growth during the past few years and anticipates more of it in the times ahead.

To prepare for what lies ahead and pave the way for continued expansion at the facility, airport leaders are completing projects and looking toward new ones going forward.

A couple of significant projects are either wrapping up or nearing completion a little bit later this year, and they are both expected to provide major benefits. The first is replacement of the facility's fuel system, which was completed a short time ago.

"The necessity for the new system was the old system had single-wall, steel, underground tanks that weren't really supported any longer," said Airport Manger Kelly Coffelt. "They were in good condition, but modern standards were not met, so we were having to do a lot of testing, and insurance rates were through the roof. Continuing to maintain them wasn't cost effective."

Thanks to funding from an ODOT-provided Connect Oregon grant, airport leaders were able to replace the fuel system with an above-ground, modern version. One tank holds aviation gasoline and the other stores jet fuel.

"As of a couple weeks ago, the new system is in operation," Coffelt said. "We just pulled the old tanks out of the ground this last Tuesday. We will use that area for parking our snowplows and airport vehicles."

The change comes with a major financial benefit, Coffelt said. He pointed out that liability insurance on the old system was more than $12,000 per year with a $250,000 deductible. The new system premium is less than $2,000 annually with a $5,000 deductible. In addition, testing, which cost around $2,000 a year, is no longer needed.

The other major project supported by the Connect Oregon grant is a new helibase. Currently slated for completion this spring, the facility will provide a new location for wildfire suppression helicopters and staff from the U.S. Forest Service. Coffelt said the walls are now up at the new building, the roof is sealed, and sheetrock work has begun on the interior.

"The majority of the Forest Service traffic — the helicopters and activity that happens during the summer for fire suppression — it moves all of that activity to the north side of the airport," Coffelt said. "So,we don't have big helicopters mixing in with small, fixed-wing aircraft, which is big."

He added that the crews have been working out of what was intended to be a temporary facility for the past 15 years. The new facility gives them room to operate as intended and gives the wildfire suppression program room to grow and facilitate more activity.

"The last thing that is really advantageous for the airport is with this project, it brings all of the infrastructure — power, water, sewer and road access — to that side of the airport," Coffelt added. "We have a lot of property over there that would be available for future business and aviation use. This project is the cornerstone to that future development."

As the current projects conclude this year, airport leaders will turn their attention to more improvement work, namely an upgrade to the runway. Coffelt said the plan is to shorten the runway by about 300 feet in order to create more of a buffer between the beginning of the runway and Highway 126. The work is funded by the Federal Aviation Administration and will meet its safety criteria.

The project is currently in the design phase and will not likely break ground until spring 2021. Coffelt stressed that the change is more involved than simply removing asphalt. There will be changes to instrument approaches and signage that is involved with the length change, and survey, geotechnical and environmental work will be necessary as well.

"There are a lot of pieces that go along with it," he said.

Coffelt said that recent and anticipated growth are driving the improvements.

"The whole area is growing, and it is not going to stop anytime soon," he said. "We are preparing and will be prepared for growth."


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