City hopes federal grant will help secure airport from wildlife hazards

This file photo from March 2009 shows the Lawrence Municipal Airport from the southeast looking northwest.

While most hazards for pilots may be thought to come from the sky, city leaders are hoping to prevent those that come from the ground at the Lawrence Municipal Airport.

A 2012 Federal Aviation Administration study found a substantial wildlife population in the immediate vicinity of the airport — including badgers, deer and coyotes — and recommended the city install a wildlife fence.

“Based on the animal population and the potential for conflict, the study concluded a fence was necessary,” said Chuck Soules, public works director for the city.

Soules said the fence could prevent an accident should an animal run across the runway when a pilot is taking off or landing.

“If an airplane hits an animal, who knows what could happen,” he said.

The airport has a 5,700-foot runway and averages more than 100 daily flight operations of single-engine, twin-engine and business jets, according to the city’s website. However, the cost of installing a wildlife perimeter fence is substantial — well over a million dollars. Now a few years since the recommendation, funding for such a fence may be on its way.

Pending congressional approval, the city is set to receive a more than $1 million federal grant toward the installation a wildlife fence at the airport. The city’s finance director, Bryan Kidney, said the city has received “some preliminary award language” from the FAA, but nothing can be known for sure until the grant is awarded and funded by Congress in the spring.

The airport is located about three miles north of town on U.S. Highway 24 and covers nearly 500 acres. The City of Lawrence has owned and operated the airport since 1929.

If funded, the federal grant would cover 90 percent of the cost of the $1.3 million fence. The city has already budgeted its share of the cost — about $130,000 from the airport fund — as part of its Capital Improvement Plan for next year. Updates to the plan, including an updated estimate for the city-paid portion of the fence, were presented to the City Commission this month.

Soules said plans for the fence would be ready to go forward if the congressional funding is granted. He said the fence would be made of chain link, be approximately 10 feet high and surround all the operations of the airport.

Soules said there is currently no fencing at the airport, but that he doesn’t know of any collisions between planes and animals. Nevertheless, he said securing the perimeter of the airport’s operations could prevent an accident from occurring.

“We’re trying to mitigate having the accident before it actually happens,” he said.