Joint-Use Airport Completed Fuel Farm & Re-Groups For New Business

Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 

After spending approximately $8 million to construct a new fuel farm, March Inland Port Airport (MIP) in Riverside, CA, is in the unenviable position of searching for tenants to use its new facilities.

 John Haag

In late 2008, with construction on the fuel farm in full swing, the airport's sole tenant, DHL, announced that it was shutting down its U.S. shipping operations. The news dealt a severe blow to the fledgling military/civilian joint-use airport that was intent on becoming an international cargo and logistics hub.

"That was tough," recalls airport director Gary Gosliga. "DHL operated seven to eight aircraft a day. We didn't have any other aviation operations."

With building materials already purchased and construction well underway, airport officials decided it would be more costly to halt construction than to proceed. If the project were suspended and started up again later, new environmental and building permits would need to be secured - an arduous and expensive task in California.

"It just didn't make sense to quit," explains John Haag, project manager for construction management firm Arcadis.

Facts & Figures

Project: Fuel Farm

Location: March Inland Port Airport, Riverside, CA

Owner/Operator: March Joint Powers Authority

Size: Two 2,500-barrel tanks

Approximate Cost: $8 million

Engineering & Design: Argus Consulting

Construction Management: Arcadis

General Contractor: Kinley Construction

Fuel Farm Operations: Total Airport Services

Environmental & Geotechnical Analysis: Kleinfelder

The decision to press on actually inspired a rally. "From that point on, everybody worked that much harder," recalls Haag. "The contractor, construction management team and owner formed a bond that you don't usually see on project like this. We all wanted to get this job done. People even came into work for free on occasion."

The re-engergized team completed the 14-month project on time and slightly under budget.

Staying the Course

When DHL came on board as MIP's first aviation customer in 2004, the company built a 305,000-square-foot overnight sort facility. Airside infrastructure development went into full swing to support it.

Taxiways were widened to accommodate DHL's wide-body 747s and in-ground power pits were added to the existing apron. Two 25,000-gallon fuel tanks were placed in a temporary facility until work could begin on a permanent fuel farm.

"We had hoped to have the fuel farm constructed earlier, but we had to consider other priorities for DHL at the time," Gosliga explains. "In 2005 and 2006, we were concentrating on servicing DHL's operational needs, so we suspended construction on the permanent fuel facility until we could get other infrastructure in place. DHL had interest in future expansion, so we had to explore alternative locations for the permanent fuel facility, which pushed the project back a couple of years."

The airport's location - just 90 miles outside Los Angeles - and business growth within Riverside County further fueled the airport's optimism.

A Farm with Flex

In 2007, the airport authority revisited fuel farm designs produced a few years earlier by Argus Consulting, an engineering company that specializes in aviation fuel storage facilities. Argus flagged changes that would need to be made to meet current building codes, particularly infrastructure upgrades to meet requirements for seismic zones.

Two 25,000-gallon fuel tanks were placed in a temporary facility until work could begin on a permanent fuel farm.

Gosliga gets notably excited when he describes the state-of-the-art fuel farm that resulted: "Typically, pipes sit on supports harnessed by U-bolts. It's a rigid system. Argus designed a free-floating system resting in cradles on pipe supports suspended on springs or intersecting slides. It's remarkable. One can literally kick a 150-foot pipe, and the entire piping system will flex to absorb simulated ground movement."

Crews completed the 14-month project on time and slightly under budget.

During an actual seismic event, he adds, the 105,000-gallon bulk storage tanks can move while the pipes attached to the tanks slide in and out freely at their connections. "There's no fixed piping in critical movement areas," he muses.

Before the flexible seismic zone features could be put in place, crews needed to remove an underground Strategic Air Command building previously used to house B-52 pilots and crews.

Demolition of the bombproof structure with 3-foot concrete floors took about four months. "We also had to manage asbestos and lead paint materials," recalls Haag.

Working under the direction of Argus, Kleinfelder Inc. provided environmental planning and permitting for compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act. It also provided geotechnical site analysis, which indicated the need for post-demolition site improvements.

 Chris Straub

"The soils in the area were poor, so we had to excavate approximately 15 feet of soil and compact it to meet specifications," relates Argus project manager Chris Straub.

After the prep work was completed, crews installed two 2,500-barrel tanks surrounded by a 6-foot concrete dike containment wall. Room for four similar-size tanks is available for future expansion. Two loading/unloading stations for fuel trucks sit on contoured basins that drain into a detention basin to collect spills.

The entire facility is computer monitored and equipped with a foam fire suppression system compliant with March Air Force Base's fire and rescue team equipment. A small operations building with an office and lab allows staff from Total Airport Services to manage fueling operations and perform required inspections and maintenance, including sampling and testing fuel according to ATA 103 specifications.

George Williams, director of fueling for Total Airport Services, describes the fuel farm as small, but state of the art. "It was designed and built very well," says Williams. The farm's clay filtration system, which helps improve quality control of the fuel, provides impressive capabilities for a farm its size.

If You Build It ...

Although running an airport without any airplanes is far from ideal, Gosliga remains positive about MIP's future. The fuel farm and recent taxiway and apron improvements, he contends, make the airport an attractive opportunity for businesses wishing to establish an aviation presence in the area.

Currently, he's focused on finding a new tenant or tenants for the building DHL continues to maintain while also marketing another vacant 225,000-square-foot warehouse. "We have to diversify," Gosliga emphasizes. "We are now considering every market in aviation, whereas before we concentrated primarily on cargo operations."

Within the next year, he reports, the airport will be open for general aviation aircraft.

Although the airport has permission from the FAA to lease space to non-aviation tenants as a stopgap measure, it is obligated under grant assurances to use the property for aviation-related purposes in the long term.

"Our strength is our flexibility and ability to react," relates Gosliga. "We have a basic infrastructure in place now, but we can also build to suit a client's needs. For some companies, that's a very attractive proposition. Ultimately, our goal is to create an airport that provides a host of public benefits and quality jobs for the region."

A Military Pedigree

The very existence of March Inland Port Airport (MIP) traces back to 1993, when March Air Force Base was selected for realignment under the Base Closure and Realignment Plan. When the facility shifted from an active duty base to a reserve military base in 1996, the military had surplus land to redeploy.

That's when March Joint Powers Authority (MJPA) was formed to redevelop 4,400 acres of land. The transfer included 350 acres of property with airfield access.

A joint-use agreement between the U.S. Department of Defense and MJPA kept control of the airfield - including the tower, airfield operations and airfield maintenance - in the hands of the military. The opportunity to develop civilian aviation activities on land adjacent to two runways was given to the newly formed March Inland Port Airport Authority.

"While we (MJPA) own property on the airport, we are also somewhat of a tenant," relates airport director Gary Gosliga. "Our role is to provide civilian facilities and services for commercial aviation. In 1997, when the agreement was signed, we had no tenants and no commercial activity. Basically, we owned 350 acres of dirt and one parking apron that could accommodate 10 commercial aircraft - that is, of course, until DHL arrived."

Fuel Operations

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