Wright Brothers Clears Strip for Henderson, TN, Airport

Thu August 19, 2004 - Southeast Edition
Kerry Lynn Kirby

A simple matter of dollars and common sense drove the decision to build a new $15-million regional airport in Henderson County, TN, to take the place of a smaller local airport in Henderson and another in adjacent Decatur County, TN.

“This airport is being built because it was going to cost more to bring the other airports up to safety standards than it would be to build a new airport,” said Danny Azbill, chairman of the Beech River Regional Airport Authority.

Four governing entities –– Henderson and Decatur counties and the municipalities of Lexington (in Henderson) and Parsons (in Decatur) — decided to join together to build the new Beech River Regional Airport between Lexington and Parsons, Azbill said.

After it opens, the local airports in Lexington and Parsons will be closed, he said.

The airport authority was formed Sept. 10, 2001. Construction began in fall 2002, and the project is on target for its planned July 2005 opening, Azbill said.

“We hope by this time next year we’ll be landing planes and everything will be ready to go,” he said.

The airport will feature a 6,000-ft. (1,829 m) runway and taxiway.

That’s a good-sized runway, designed to accommodate future growth at the facility, he said.

“If we had to, we could land Air Force 1 there,” Azbill said.

The airport also will include 30 metal T-hangars to house planes in units of 10, a maintenance hangar and 10 metal personal or corporate hangars, which the airport authority will sell land leases on, according to Azbill.

The airport’s terminal will be approximately 3,500 sq. ft. (325 sq m) and house a fixed-base operator, flight planning services for the pilots, a pilots’ lounge and a conference room, he said.

Approximately 400 (161.9 ha) acres of land –– mostly timberland and pastureland but also some farmland — had to be cleared for the project, Azbill said.

Wright Brothers Construction Co. of Charleston, TN, was the contractor for the first phase of the job, including the clearing, excavation and drainage components, which “went pretty much as expected” and kept the project on schedule, he said.

“We’ve had the rainy season this year and last year but no major delays,” Azbill said.

Wright Brothers subcontracted the grading work to Vaughn Contractors Inc., of Waverly, TN.

Vaughn started on the job in May 2003 and, after breaking for weather-related reasons from December to April, finished in May 2004.

Vaughn said his company worked on the grading as another subcontractor cleared the site.

“It was just cut and fill … with quite a bit of underdrain pipe to put down,” he said.

They removed approximately 500,000 cu. yds. (382,277 cu m) of earth, Vaughn said.

The job also entailed putting 4 in. (10.1 cm) of crushed limestone over the runway and taxiway area to prepare the surface for concrete, he said.

Equipment used on the job has included 10 Caterpillar 621F scrapers, 10 Caterpillar 610F scrapers, five Caterpillar 350D articulated trucks, two Caterpillar 325 backhoes, a Caterpillar 140H grader, a Caterpillar 563 roller, two Caterpillar 815 compactors, Caterpillar 345 and 350 excavators and Caterpillar D9N dozers, Vaughn said.

He added that his company owns all of the equipment, most of which was purchased from Thompson Machinery.

“They’re an excellent dealer,” said Gary Vaughn, who owns the company with brother Steve Vaughn.

He said they’re happy with the Cats, which are “excellent” in terms of parts and service availability.

APAC/Tennessee, Inc., out of Memphis, TN, is in the process of building the runway and taxiway now, Azbill said.

The runway will be 100 ft. (30.5 m) wide and 9.5 in. (24.1 cm) thick, according to engineer Terry Drumwright, a principal with TLM Associates Inc. in Jackson, TN.

There also will be a full parallel taxiway, 6,000 ft. (1,829 m) long and 35 ft. (10.7 m) wide, and a 236-ft.-by-775-ft. (71.9 by 236.2 m) aircraft apron, “which is basically like a parking lot for airplanes,” Drumwright said.

Both will be the same thickness as the runway, he said.

Preparation of the site involved the excavation of about 2.2 million yds. (2 million m) of dirt, Drumwright said.

APAC started work on the job July 14, noted Michael Barnett, project manager of the company, a subsidiary of Covington, KY-based Ashland.

The company has had eight workers on one shift doing grading work, which was 15 percent complete by the end of July, Barnett said.

Equipment on the paving job has included two Caterpillar 140G motor graders, a Kawasaki 70Z(IV) loader, an Ingersoll-Rand steel drum roller VROPAC 100, an Ingersoll-Rand pneumatic roller PT125R, a CMI TR4503 trimmer, a CMI RS-425 mixer and a Caterpillar SS-250 mixer, he said.

All but the steel drum roller, leased from Hertz in Memphis, TN, and the loader belong to APAC, said Barnett.

Paving was expected to begin the second week in this month, he said, and would entail roughly double the amount of workers paving 2,200 cu. yds. (1,682 cu m) a day.

“They’ll probably be working one 14-hour shift, sunup to sundown,” Barnett said, though a night shift could be added if the daytime temperatures get too hot.

The job involves pouring 1,590 tons (1,442 t) of concrete into an existing crushed limestone base to create a stable foundation.

Subcontractor LoJac Inc. of Lebanon, TN, is being brought in to saw the paved surface into sections and seal the joints, preventing cracking caused by freeze and thaw of moisture that could otherwise get into the concrete, Barnett said.

“It’s designed to carry the weight of the airplanes; it’s not designed to carry water,” he explained.

As soon as the concrete is able to hold up the machine, crews will make an early-entry cut, which they’ll come back to widen and seal a week later, Barnett said.

“Theoretically, it will be waterproofed at that time,” he said. “Water can’t get down into the joints.... Water is what ruins concrete”

Subcontractor Spartan Construction of Burlington, KY, is constructing the approximately 36,000 ft. (10,972 m) of underdrain, which involves a 4-in. (10.2 cm) pipe placed around the entire perimeter of the paved area to give the water, found naturally in the limestone underneath, a path to get out, Barnett said.

That work should take a week to 10 days and is scheduled to be under way after the concrete paving is completed, he said.

International Contractors of Largo, FL, was brought in to do the striping.

The airport has been a dream job in several ways, say those involved in the project.

“Actually, it was an excellent site, right on top of a drainage way, so there’s very little environmental impact,” said Drumwright, the project engineer.

Most of the dirt at the site was a “nice sandy material,” he said, noting there was a relatively small amount of undesirable clay, which was anticipated. “Some unusual, really dense clay had to be cut out and removed and replaced with sandy material.

“It was actually a pretty straightforward job, the kind we like,” Drumwright said.

The out-of-the-way location of the site has kept the project from disrupting residents and businesses, Barnett said.

“This is an ideal job, in the country, and you don’t have the traffic to deal with. It’s just us,” he said.

Currently, there are no plans for passenger service at the airport, Azbill said. But there is a longterm plan to try to attract a freight carrier to the airport, he said.

“We would hope sometime down the road we would be a hub for a FedEx or a UPS, but that would be down the road,” Azbill said.

As soon as it opens, the project will help the business climate of the region as the new airport will accommodate more flights than the two local airports can now, he said.

Although in Henderson County, the airport is going to be closer to Parsons than to Lexington, which, according to Azbill, project backers hope will help Decatur County mirror the industrial growth that has already happened in Lexington.

“Lexington is really industrial, and we’re hoping this airport is going to do the same for Parsons and Decatur County,” he said.

After the runway/taxiway portion of the job is finished, the next phase will be construction of the terminal and hangars.