Friday, May 27, 2005

LaBelle Airport Construction Woes

County Administrator Losing Control of Construction Project?

LABELLE, FL. (May 27, 2005) -- The Hendry County Engineer and Airport
Manager have quit. The airport construction project is behind schedule, with
numerous deadlines missed. So what's new at LaBelle Municipal Airport's
major construction project?

The huge runway and taxiway expansion project scheduled to take only two
months under the contract between the county and Better Roads, Inc. has
dragged on for months longer. As the project was nearing a presumed
completion date at the end of the day Thursday May 26, both the county
engineer and the airport manager are gone. They quit two weeks ago after
being on the job for the county several years each. There is now no one with
any aviation experience working for the county on the airport project. What
more can go wrong?

On Thursday and Friday, a couple of dozen men were seen working at the
airport trying to complete the work needed to safely open western Hendry
county's only airport. Most of the workers were laying sod to cover the
acres of dirt plowed up for the lengthening of the runway from 3800 feet to
5000 feet and to expand the aircraft taxiway system. Although the complete
work calls for 5000 feet of runway, that won't be completed in this phase. A
few workers were seen installing electrical wires to the runway signage
lighting system and a couple of presumed supervisors were seen running up
and down the field in their trucks for hours just looking about. Painting
crews were preparing to put down safely markings on the runways, taxiways
and parking ramp.

In the rush to complete the project, it seems some important issues were
botched. The Federal Aviation Adminstration's Flight Service Station say the
airport is open today (Friday). Obviously, that's not true, as heavy
equipment and men are still working on the runway and taxiways, as well as
the aircraft parking ramp. Seems someone goofed and didn't tell the FAA that
the airport is not open. The FAA thought the airport was to be open by
midnight Thursday evening as that's the word they heard from the Hendry
county engineering office. Now Hendry counthy government is in a dangerous
situation if any pilot try to land thinking all the work is completed.

While an airport's primary function is to allow aircraft to land and take
off safely, another required feature is parking for aircraft and safely
securing them on the parking ramp. Another goof up was spotted Thursday as
we drove into the airport. Seems some planner figured wrong on how far
apart tie down ropes should be placed for securing aircraft at the ramp. The
current set up will not allow any pilot to tie down their aircraft on the
ramp because the ropes are set apart too far, about twice as far as they
should be. Someone put metal rings in concrete in the wrong locations
meaning there's no way to tie down the aircraft securely on the ramp. The
Sunday Morning News editor notified the county engineering department
Thursday morning at 11 a.m. about the apparent goof-up but no action was
taken to correct it. The contractor says that's what on the plans and he's
not changing it.

In the absence of the former county engineer, the engineering department
says Lester Baird, Hendry County's county administrator is in charge of the
airport and its construction project.

When pilots call the FAA to file flight plans or get airport and weather
informations here's what the FAA Flight Service Stations told pilots Friday
in published "NOTAMS" which are Notices to Airmen, about the LaBelle
Airport which is designated as X14 by the FAA.

"Current NOTAMs, (as of 27 MAY 15:54 GMT), The following is a list of NOTAMs
within a 5NM radius of X14. X14 LA BELLE MUNI. No active NOTAMs for this
location." If an airport is closed, the NOTAM would be issued saying so to
warn pilots not to land there. Meanwhile, we hope no pilot tries to land
while the trucks and men are stilling working all over the runways.

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