$5 million rehab effort is largest in WSDOT history

By Ann McCreary

The Methow Valley State Airport between Twisp and Winthrop will close next week for more than a month while the runway is repaved.

The $5 million project is the largest airport rehabilitation project in scope and cost ever undertaken by Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Aviation, which manages the airport.

The airport will close to the public on May 14 and is expected to remain closed for about 45 days, according to WSDOT. While the airport is closed, the 22-year-old runway pavement will be removed, a new stormwater drainage system and new asphalt will be installed on the 5,049-foot runway. The work also includes rehabilitating taxiways and making modifications to taxiway lighting.

The runway is tentatively scheduled to reopen at the end of June to avoid interfering with fire season operations of the U.S. Forest Service’s North Cascades Smokejumper Base (NCSB), located at the airport. NCSB is prepared to operate out of other airports during construction, WSDOT said.

The airport has nine private hangars on airport property or on adjacent privately-owned parcels, and pilots have agreed to move their aircraft to another field or have planned their airport use around the closure, said Christina Crea, a spokesperson for WSDOT.

Work will continue for another 40 days after the airport runway reopens to make improvements to runway aprons and ramps. A final phase to expand an aircraft parking apron is planned for spring or summer of 2019.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program is funding 90 percent of the construction costs, and WSDOT Aviation is funding 10 percent of the costs. The work will be done by Selland Construction of Wenatchee.

WSDOT will issue a notice of closure to pilots during the project, but the airport’s Automated Weather Observing Station will continue to operate.

The Methow Valley State Airport has been called the “crown jewel” of the state-run airports by Paul Wolf, state airports manager. It has the longest runway of the 16 airports that are managed by WSDOT’s aviation division.

The airport runway is rated for planes that weigh up to 30,000 pounds, which are typically multi-engine, small business-type jets and turboprops. The airport could handle commercial aircraft in an emergency if other airports were closed, Wolf said.

Originally a Forest Service facility, the airport has historical value as the “birthplace of smokejumping,” because the first experimental jumps by firefighters took place there in 1939. It has been home to the smokejumper base since 1940. The runway project at the airport is unrelated to proposed infrastructure improvements at NCSB that are under consideration by the Forest Service.

Like many of the state-managed airports, the Methow Valley State Airport’s primary uses are emergency management staging, sports recreation and emergency evacuation, Wolf said. “It also supports local economics, he said.