Major works to start at Merimbula Airport on runway and general aviation precinct

The airport works will allow unrestricted operation of both the ATR 72 and Q400 aircraft such as those used by Qantas which first flew into Merimbula in December last year.
The airport works will allow unrestricted operation of both the ATR 72 and Q400 aircraft such as those used by Qantas which first flew into Merimbula in December last year.

Tender for earthworks at southern end of airport accepted

Council has agreed to move ahead with the next phase of work at Merimbula Airport after evaluating tenders for the earthworks at the southern end of the runway.

Council has also received $2.175m in funding for the construction of a new taxiway and apron area, through the federal government Regional Airport Program Round 2.

The projected cost for the airport infrastructure upgrades is $19.436m and with the latest funding, council now has $17.465m for the work with a further $0.98m pending through the NSW government Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund.

At the meeting August 4 councillors agreed to accept the tender from Symal Infrastructure for the runway early earthworks, at a cost of $2.657m.

They also agreed to negotiate further with Symbal Infrastructure, who had the contract for sealing Towamba Road, about the airport runway and precinct works

The earthworks will create the southern runway extension platform within Merimbula Lake, something staff say is "a technically difficult project with significant engineering risk, including the potential for differential settlement of the platform post construction".

The runway overlay cannot be started until earthworks have been completed and ideally allowed to settle.

The earthworks are also in an environmentally sensitive area and a bio-diversity offset will have to be paid by council to both the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries which is expected to cost around $1m in total.

Airport to close during runway works

To add to the complexity of the overall works, the runway sealing has to be carried out at the hottest and driest part of the year.

Two windows either side of the busy Christmas period have been identified, being late November to late December 2021 or February to early March 2022 (the more likely option) and this will inevitably close the airport for part, if not all of the six weeks needed for the work.

"This is so the bitumen sets properly. The last time it was done in April and we had rain and we couldn't dry out the sub-strata," mayor Russell Fitzpatrick said.

He said council was talking to the airlines and trying to work out whether one flight a day was possible but there would be no general aviation activity allowed.

The pressure is on as the funding deeds come with time limits, works need time to settle and may be delayed for bad weather and the contract for the runway and general aviation area is still to be let, something that needs to happen in the next four weeks, Cr Fitzpatrick said.

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Council has agreed to a further loan of up to $2m to be funded by the future income generated by the lease of general aviation precinct land to assist any funding gaps.

Biodiversity - the cost of speed when dealing with government departments

With time of the essence in the airport project council has agreed and has previously set aside $1m for it's biodiversity offset payment.

The payment must be made to the NSW government - specifically Fisheries and the Department of Primary Industries in this case - because the southern earthworks and extension of the runway encroach on environmentally sensitive land for which there is a biodiversity overlay.

Anyone required to provide a biodiversity offset can do so by paying the government or by providing an alternative piece of environmentally-sensitive land.

The consent conditions stipulate that the following credits must be either fully retired or paid into the Biodiversity Conservation Fund (BCF) prior to construction commencing:

  • PCT 920 Mangroves 28 credits
  • PCT 1126 Saltmarsh 1 credit
  • Beach stone curlew 43 credits
  • Sooty oystercatcher 29 credits
  • Pied oystercatcher 29 credits

In the council meeting it was agreed to endorse payout of the credits based upon the biodiversity offset credit calculations, made in July 2021 of $579,000. This will be paid to the DPI and additional funds will need to be paid to Fisheries which could take the total up towards the $1m allocated.

This provides council with the speediest solution, allowing approval and work to commence.

However council has decided that it will progress the creation of a stewardship environmental site close to the airport which it can trade as a biodiversity credit at a later stage as there is now a market - with spot prices - for various biodiversity credits which can be purchased by councils, organisations or developers who do not have land to offset.

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