The Pine Bluff Aviation Commission approved a five-year capital improvement plan Thursday that will be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration. Commissioners Dr. Michele Pashkevich, Harvey Sizemore, Rocky Thornburgh, Tommy Palmer, Ken Johnson and Kenneth Collins voted to approve this plan after hearing from airport manager Doug Hale.
Hale said the airport is seeking the following amounts of money from the FAA to do the following projects: a design-only grant at a cost of $165,700 in 2018; construction of a parallel taxiway at a cost of $1,500,975 in 2019; nothing in 2020; the installation of new taxiway lights at a cost of $232,965 in 2021; and the installation of runway lights at a cost of $292,825 in 2022.
The airport has a runway and taxiway that are not entirely parallel, which is a problem, Hale said, noting that this configuration jeopardizes safety. McClelland Consulting Engineers associate project engineer Alex Smith said that airports submit capital improvement plans to the FAA and that the FAA does not guarantee money.
“This is not a grant application,” Smith said. “There are no guarantees of these funds. That’s a planning tool. That’s just giving the FAA a heads-up they’re applying for these projects in these years. The FAA can come back and say, ‘We’ll try but we can’t promise or they can come back and say good. We plan to fund it. Or they can come back and say that’s too much money.’”
In signage news, the commission approved in July spending $1,300 to buy a sign from Arkansas Correctional Industries to direct people to Pine Bluff Regional/Airport Grider Field. Hale said he learned the city needs a permit from the City of Pine Bluff Zoning and Inspection Department and that the sign can have only one leg and one face unless it is a directional sign.
The sign is supposed to be placed around portable buildings about half a mile west of the intersection of U.S. 65 and Arkansas 81. The sign will measure four feet by eight feet and state the name of the airport at 709 Hangar Row. Hale said the owner of the property permits the sign.
“There is a chance that we can have (writing on) both sides to it as long as it has arrows for directional purposes,” Hale said.
Johnson said he did not foresee an act of Congress to erect a sign.
“You can quote me on that,” he said.
Hale had already ordered the sign from Arkansas Correctional Industries and has since asked the company to place the order on hold.
In other news, Johnson is also the manager of the Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility. He said his employees are paying for health insurance through QualChoice but are being denied service by health care providers. Johnson asked Hale if his employees are having similar problems; Hale said he is not aware of any problems.
“When you pay for your insurance, it should be good,” Johnson said. “If in fact there is a problem with the insurance, someone at the city should be talking to employees and letting them know ahead of schedule. And moreover, QualChoice representatives should have been here and told us exactly what we should expect. But there was no communication.”
Pashkevich said most doctors do not accept QualChoice.
“That is the worst-paying insurance for doctors and for hospitals,” Pashkevich said. “They pay you diddly-squat. I don’t take it.”
In other news, Hale said McClelland Consulting Engineers donated $3,000 to the airport to purchase a radio. This kind of radio will operate in an emergency whereas other kinds of radios will not function in emergencies.
“This will greatly improve the emergency communications of our airport,” Hale said. “It provides a vital role in emergency response.”