AP News

Work resumes on Jackson runway after long delay


JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Work has resumed on a runway at Mississippi's busiest passenger airport after a dispute with the contractor brought construction to a standstill last year and left the facility with only one working runway much longer than anticipated.

The project to remove bad clay and repave one of two runways at Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport stalled over a disagreement about the quality of the asphalt being put down. The airport has hired a new contractor and hopes to finish the job in March, which would be two years behind the original schedule.

The Jackson Municipal Airport Authority found the first contractor, Rifenburg Construction Inc. of Durham, N.C., in default last November. The project was at a standstill while the airport sought new bids to complete the job.

Airport CEO Dirk Vanderleest said this week that APAC-Mississippi Inc. got the contract to finish the job for about $9.5 million. They were cleared to work Oct. 1 and the company has started repaving the runway.

Vanderleest said the runway should be finished by March 30. The original target date to finish the runway was in March 2011, he said.

The airport authority board voted in June 2010 to accept Rifenburg's bid of about $13.3 million. Work stalled when airport engineers said the asphalt being put down didn't meet contractual standards. Rifenburg demanded arbitration on Nov. 8, 2011, and was seeking $2.5 million in damages and expenses, according to airport records.

The Jackson Municipal Airport Authority's Board of Commissioners thought the project would get done faster if it hired a new contractor instead of waiting for arbitration to be completed. The board voted to find Rifenburg in default on Nov. 21, 2011, according to records from that meeting.

The board voted last month to approve a settlement to end the arbitration, according to records obtained through a public records request. The settlement called for Rifenburg to pay the airport authority $686,910 and for the airport authority to rescind its default termination of Rifenburg.

Rifenburg attorney Mark Herbert said in an email this week that the "arbitration has been settled and the termination of Rifenburg has been revoked and rescinded."

"Otherwise, the settlement is confidential," Herbert said.

Herbert had no other comment on Thursday. He said in February that the airport used quality tests not covered in the contract.

The goal of the project was to remove Yazoo clay, a common type of clay across central Mississippi that swells when saturated with water. It has long been known to cause cracks in home foundations and to create problems for roads and other structures. Airport officials say it caused a hump in the runway.

Vanderleest has said the closed runway is more of an inconvenience than a problem, but the other runway is due for work and that can't start until the east one is finished. Work on the west runway is expected to start in late 2013.

The closure has caused air traffic controllers to launch departures between arrivals instead of using one runway for planes coming in and the other for departing aircraft. Federal Aviation Administration officials have said that creates a more complex operation, but that air traffic controllers are trained for such situations and the airport remains safe.

Another challenge is that the open runway has what is known as an ILS, an instrument landing system for poor weather conditions, only in one direction. A global positioning system must be used for planes landing from the other direction. Both systems help guide pilots, but some older commercial aircraft are only equipped with the ILS system, and can't use the GPS approach.

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