Installation of $1.8 million wildlife fence at Lawrence airport to begin soon

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

It’s going to take five miles of fencing to keep large animals from interfering with takeoffs and landings at the Lawrence Municipal Airport.

Though there have been no collisions thus far, city officials say animals on the airport’s runways have created safety concerns.

“We’ve had a few times where planes and deer or coyotes almost came in contact with each other, to where the pilot either had to abort takeoff or just missed it coming back in on the landing,” said Chuck Soules, public works director for the city.

The city-operated airport is about three miles north of town on U.S. Highway 24 and covers nearly 500 acres, according to the city’s website. The airport has a 5,700-foot runway and averages more than 100 daily flights. Aircraft that use the airport include single- and twin-engine planes as well as business jets.

The added safety provided by the wildlife fence will come at a significant cost.

The total cost of the project will be about $1.8 million, 90 percent of which will be paid for by a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, according to a city staff memo to the City Commission. The city’s share for the fence will be about $180,000 and will be paid for by airport reserves via the capital reserve fund.

Three companies bid on the project, and as part of its consent agenda Tuesday the commission approved awarding the contract to the lowest bidder, Amerifence Corp.

When asked about the significant cost of the wildlife fence, Soules said the installation of the fence is a pretty substantial project and that the bids were in line with similar projects at other airports.

“We feel comfortable that the prices that we received are reasonable and competitive,” Soules said.

Plans for the 10-foot-high wildlife fence indicate it will be 27,000 linear feet, or a little more than five miles long, and have six access gates and two pedestrian gates. The fence will be chain link and extend five feet underground to prohibit burrowing animals.

The city has owned and operated the airport since 1929. The city applied for the FAA grant last year to fund installation of the fence following an FAA funded wildlife study at the airport. The study found a substantial wildlife population in the immediate vicinity of the airport and recommended a wildlife fence to improve the safety of operations.

Soules said that during the study a biologist recorded various species of animals at the airport.

“He saw coyotes, deer, raccoons, and he even saw a badger,” Soules said. “That’s why we need the skirting underneath the ground, because there was a badger out there.”

Soules said construction of the fence will begin around the beginning of October and is scheduled to take 100 calendar days. He said he expects the fence to be completed in the spring.