Airport upgrade gets federal boost

Hollister airport

With help from a federal grant, work is set to begin on a project to improve the storm water drainage at the Hollister Municipal Airport in November with plans to complete construction before the fire season begins next spring.
Mike Chambless, the city’s director of airport and code enforcement, hosted a press conference Monday at the Hollister Vintage Aircraft Museum announcing Hollister is the recipient of a $2.5 million Federal Aviation Administration grant that will cover the bulk of the project cost. City officials received word of the grant a few weeks ago and hosted the conference with local officials and Congressman Sam Farr.
The storm ditches along the runway at the airport date back to 1942, when the Naval Air Fleet constructed them close to the runway.
“It doesn’t meet FAA regulations,” Chambless said. “They are too close to the runway and too deep.”
The grant will be used to create a subterranean drainage system on both shoulders of the runway, which will increase safety for users of the airport. It will also regrade the area where the current ditches reside from 25 percent to a 3 percent grade.
“It will remove the final major obstacle identified by Caltrans,” Chambless said. “Then we can dedicate energy to a new project that will be our last major improvement.”
To qualify for funding, Chambless said each airport had to be sure to have their environmental documents in place and provide at least 10 percent matching funds to complete the project. For the FAA grants, each region receives a chunk of money from the federal government and then the regional office prioritizes the projects in the area. Hollister is included with Northern California projects that are prioritized out of Burlingame.
Chambless said initially the FAA offered $1 million for the project. Through a second round of prioritizing, in which officials looked at what agencies had the matching funds and proper documents, some of the other airport projects were ineligible for funding this time around. After the second look, the FAA upped the award for Hollister to $2.5 million.
The city’s share will come out of the Airport Enterprise Fund, which will continue to build up funding to meet the match for future projects.
“I always say my job is to fix things that are broken,” Farr said, “to improve the infrastructure in the area.”
Farr said he tries to look at the resources the community has to offer that other places do not have. Even though Salinas and Monterey both have bustling airport enterprises, he said Hollister has the benefit of being outside the marine fog layer.
“The idea of this money we got is to do infrastructure improvements, but it’s really about building potential,” he said. “You have to understand we are competing with San Francisco and all the other big airports. The only way to get money that is specialized is to ask for it.”
Chambless and Farr both said the local airport would be an important link in a regional emergency. In a major earthquake it could serve as a place to deliver supplies to the Central Coast or the Bay Area, especially if other airports in the region are shut down.
After the storm drain project is completed in April, in time for Calfire to return for the fire season, Chambless said the next focus at the airport will be repaving the runways. The northern part of the runway was built by the military during World War II, but the extension of the runway on the south end of the airport was built in the 1990s.
The newer part of the runway is in need of repaving, a project that could cost up to $14 million.
Chambless offered a few minutes each at the press conference to representatives of economic development groups in the city, including President/CEO of the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau Debbie Taylor and San Benito Business Council President Larry Barr. The Economic Development Corporation staff members had previously estimated that the Hollister Municipal Airport has the potential to support more than 500 jobs, including an Airpark, Jet Center, Calfire and county offices.
“It is important to business to keep bringing in projects,” Taylor said. “We need to look at improvements that will lead to more businesses.”

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