On Tuesday, Sept. 18, attorney Steve Nicolau addressed the City Council and requested an investigation regarding a paving job on the airport’s main runway that pilots and an earlier inquiry determined was poorly done.
He alleges the city was alerted to defects in the paving the same year the work was started, but that nothing was done until after the warranty on the work had expired.
Nicolau is seeking answers about what happened and who was responsible.
“We are now looking at the very real possibility of more taxpayer money being spent to correct problems that should’ve been corrected on the contractor’s dime, not ours,” he told the council during Tuesday’s public comment session.
In 2007, the city contracted with California Pavement Maintenance Inc. to repave the airport’s main runway, which runs northwest to southeast. Ninety percent of the nearly $598,000 cost was picked up by the Federal Aviation Administration, according to previous Press reports, while 8 percent came from the state and 2 percent came from the city.
The contract between the city and CPM, a copy of which was provided to the Press by Nicolau this week, stipulated that the city had one year after the work’s completion to identify any work that was inadequate.
The work was acknowledged as completed Feb. 5, 2008, according to a document signed by Mayor Brent Ives, and the city released CPM in a document dated Feb. 11, 2010.
However, an email provided by Nicolau that was sent by airport coordinator Bruce Ludeman to then-Parks and Recreation Director Rod Buchanan suggests that people at the airport identified problems before the work was accepted as finished.
“I have voiced our concerns in recent weeks about the quality of the work being performed at Tracy Municipal Airport,” states Ludeman’s email, dated Sept. 13, 2007. “… In summary: There are huge areas of the airport that need further application of material to ‘glue’ down the loose aggregate, and a solution needs to be found to make sure that we don’t continue to have paint coming loose and lifting up the underlying slurry mixture. … We have an uneven crumbling slurry layer that is also being pulled apart by the paint.”
City Manager Leon Churchill acknowledged Nicolau’s concerns later in the week.
“I think we had some project management issues at the time that, if we had the chance, we would do differently and do better,” he said Wednesday, Sept. 18.
Problems with the pavement at the airport continue to be reported.
Several pilots told the Press in February 2011 that loose bits of the resurfaced runway were damaging propellers and posed a safety risk to pilots.
Donald Huag, aviation safety officer for the California Department of Transportation Division of Aeronautics, penned a letter dated Feb. 28, 2011, documenting the “progressive disintegration of the slurry seal layer” at the Tracy airport, according to a previous Press report.
John Favors, the president of the Tracy Airport Association, said this week that the repaving in 2007 also shortened the main runway from its designated 4,002 feet to 3,996 feet.
The difference of 6 feet is huge, he said, because many insurance companies only cover planes to touch down on runways longer than 4,000 feet.
Favors said the result is that many jet-turbine planes no longer land at the airport, putting a dent in fuel sales and prompting a hike in Tracy’s typically cheaper-than-average fuel prices.
“When we had the 4,000-foot runway, … we had a lot of jet traffic,” Favors said. "There was always a line at the gas pumps. Now, there’s nothing.”
Churchill said city staff has received clear direction from the City Council to ensure that the runway’s length is restored to longer than 4,000 feet and that the quality of the surface is improved.
“The next part of this issue is we need to make it right,” he said. “We’re going to make it right.”
Churchill said the city is seeking a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration that would largely pay for the Tracy airport’s runway to be repaved. He said the city’s chance of landing the grant was “pretty good.”
Churchill added that even if the 2007 slurry job had been perfect, the lifespan of such a seal is only about five years.