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Ground Broken For New Runway At Pullman-Moscow Airport

Construction has begun to to widen, lengthen and realign the runway at Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport.
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Construction has begun to to widen, lengthen and realign the runway at Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport.

Earth movers are beginning to move dirt for a better runway at the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport on the Idaho-Washington border. Construction work has begun even though difficult negotiations to acquire needed land under the new runway's approach are not concluded.

The earth scrapers and dump trucks started up after a groundbreaking ceremony last week. The Pullman-Moscow airport authority wants to widen, lengthen and realign what is now a below-standard runway and taxiway.

There's still a potential hitch in that the airport does not yet control roughly 100 acres just beyond one end of the new runway. Washington State University owns most of that.

WSU Interim Vice President for Finance and Administration Olivia Yang says the university is on board with the new runway in principle.

"We would very much like for the airport project to be successful, understanding that we are affected by the airport runway realignment - our research is - and we need to work hard to protect our research as well,” Yang said.

Some of the research buildings in the way house large animals under quarantine, which promise to be difficult and expensive to relocate.

Yang said the university is preparing a counter-offer. At this juncture, it is unknown how far apart the airport authority and adjacent landowners are in dollar terms. If negotiations reach an impasse, the airport could ask the City of Pullman for assistance to acquire the needed runway clearance through eminent domain. That would be a last resort though.

The majority of the funding for the $119 million airport reconstruction project is coming from the federal government. The case for the new runway is based on improving the reliability of air service and handling growing demand.

"The airport is growing 20 percent per year. We continue to get busier," said airport director Tony Bean in an interview. "The airport is highly critical to our universities, our businesses and entities in the Palouse."

Since 2006, the Pullman-Moscow airport has needed a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate. The separation between the current runway and the parallel taxiway is less than the 400 feet required by the FAA. The separation distance becomes an issue if large aircraft are using the runway and taxiway at the same time.

The Pullman-Moscow airport currently has daily commercial airline service from Alaska/Horizon Air using Bombardier turbo props and also receives the occasional Boeing or Airbus jet on a charter flight.

Bean said the construction contractors are trying to get the new runway in place by 2018, although other parts of the realignment may take longer. He explained the earth scrapers and bulldozers went to work this month on airport property even though land acquisition talks are ongoing because the large volumes of dirt to be moved need a lot of time to settle before a new runway can be poured on top of the re-sculpted landscape.

Copyright 2016 Northwest News Network

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.