Less than six months after reopening Merimbula Airport following its $6.5 million runway works, the runway had to be closed for four hours while repairs were carried out on Wednesday, April 16. Further repairs were carried out the following day although these did not require the runway to be closed.
Cracks had appeared in the runway and whether they were as a result of recent rains, moisture that was trapped in the runway when it was originally sealed or a combination of both is unclear.
The stress of planes landing on areas of bitumen that have been weakened by moisture trapped underneath has necessitated repairs before the runway becomes rutted and general manager of Bega Valley Shire Council, Leanne Barnes has said that further repairs may be necessary “from time to time”.
Airport user, John Moffatt, was on site when repairs were taking place. He said: “The seal or bitumen was scrapped off on a couple of sections, the gravel exposed, ploughed up and sprinkled with lime, replaced and rolled again.”
Ms Barnes said that the work was carried out under warranty by Hewett Pty Ltd, Canberra, the contractor that was awarded the contract by council. Hewatt resurfaced the runway according to the design parameters specified by council’s chosen design consultant, Hyder and carried out the work under guidance from a specialised consultant, Ms Barnes said.
Council sought a special variation from the rate cap for the year 2011/2012 in order to increase rates to cover both the tourism levy and to fund a $3.5 million loan for the airport runway.
The work to resurface the runway coincided with periods of heavy rainfall prompting unavoidable delays in reopening.
Mr Moffatt said: “If you seal the runway when wet and you are sealing soft patches - they are not going to fix themselves.”
The News Weekly was told by an informed source who didn’t wish to be named that: “It was sealed with a certain amount of moisture in. It was sealed six weeks early and the moisture has come to the surface.”
Rex Koerbin of the Merimbula Airport Users Group said that the group was on record as saying it didn’t believe the runway would last the 20 years that council had said it would.
“We have grave concerns about how long it will last and we would like an independent engineer to look at it before the warranty period ends,” he said.
But Ms Barnes said that there were no plans to have a consultant look at the runway; it was just an issue of heavy rain. “The RMS was back on the Bega bypass because of the rain. If there’s lots of rain there will be issues. There will be continual monitoring and there may be things that need to be addressed from time to time.”
A number of airport users have raised questions over the design of the runway resurfacing and expressed concern over its strength but Ms Barnes said that the airport runway was “definitely up to standard” and said she expected it to last 20 years.
“Of course a concrete runway is the piece de resistance but that would have cost $15 million. We are happy with the runway.”
Coincidentally councillors were in a workshop discussing the airport on the morning of the closure, but were not informed.
Ms Barnes said that in the normal way council wouldn’t expect to notify councillors unless there was a huge impact on the public.