U.S. Marines and Navy Seabees worked Wednesday in conjunction with the Catalina Island Conservancy to repair the aging runway on Santa Catalina island’s only airport.
About 70 troopers, flown in on helicopters to the Airport in the Sky, arrived Wednesday to help about 30 others who arrived last week to work on the 3,000-foot runway. The $5 million project, funded by donations to the conservancy, will upgrade the airport and provide the military with a training opportunity in a remote location with difficult logistics.
“The Airport in the Sky is an historic and critical asset because it provides access to Catalina via air for first responders, travelers, residents and businesses. The airport is the island’s delivery hub for the U.S. Mail, UPS and other carriers. An estimated 3.5 million pounds of freight, which includes medical and emergency supplies, is also shipped through the airport annually,” Catalina Island Conservancy President and CEO Tony Budrovich said. ”Although privately owned by the nonprofit Catalina Island Conservancy, the Airport in the Sky is operated as a public airport serving the island’s 4,000 residents, businesses and one million annual visitors.”
The repair work partnership is part of the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training Program (IRT), which matches community needs with military training opportunities.
For years, the conservancy had been patching the airport’s main runway, costing approximately $250,000 annually. But the California Department of Transportation’s (Caltrans) Aeronautics Division determined that a long-term solution was necessary.
“After about two years of working together, we have entered into this win-win partnership … to repair the runway, which is aged and beyond its useful life,” Budrovich said. `We were so pleased to welcome these amazing young men and women to the island, and we appreciate their can-do spirit about tackling this task. The airport was at risk of closure because of the condition of the runway.
“This innovative partnership with the Marines and Navy will ensure the airport can remain open another 75-100 years, while also providing a training opportunity to prepare the troops for deployment on islands and other remote locations to build or repair airports and other infrastructure.”
Troops have established an encampment of tents at the airport that include housing, food service, hygiene, medical facilities and more. They plan to spend the next three months working six days a week to replace the airstrip’s asphalt with concrete, creating a much more durable and reliable surface for landing.
By late March, the project should be complete and the airport is slated to re-open to the public soon thereafter, depending on weather and other factors.
I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) at Camp Pendleton assigned 3rd MAW from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar to support the work and training opportunity; the 3rd MAW identified Marine Wing Support Squadron 373 (MWSS-373) to serve as the lead for the project.
Naval Construction Group One (NCG1), First Naval Construction Regiment (1NCR) and Navy Mobility Construction Battalion (NCMB-25) personnel also were participating. Navy officials said Seabees have a long history of building critical infrastructure and serving alongside the other armed services around the world.
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