Ocean City Municipal Installs Artificial Turf

Ocean City Municipal Installs Artificial Turf
Author: 
Scott Berman
Published in: 
September
2020

The Ocean City, NJ, area is known for beaches, boardwalks and unspoiled hiking areas. But some of the very features that make it attractive for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts make it difficult for the local general aviation airport. Located on a barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and Great Egg Harbor Bay, Ocean City Municipal (26N) is prone to erosion problems from high tides and safety hazards from birds.

In response, the city-owned facility is using artificial turf to address both issues. Airport Manager Todd Dwyer explains that installing synthetic grass over a layer of crushed stone not only eliminates the birds’ food source (which encourages them to relocate elsewhere), it also helps prevent water from undermining the structural integrity of the airport’s sole airstrip, which is designated by approach as two runways, 6 and 24.

So far, the small 85-year-old airport has spent $762,040 on the three-phase project—90% from two FAA Airport Improvement Program grants and the remaining 10% from the city. In March, crews completed the crucial second phase—installing stone and AvTurf at both ends and along the bay side of the 2,972-foot asphalt runway. Work was performed from January to March, when traffic is extremely sparse at the airport. (During the busier summer season, it accommodates about 60 landings daily.) Additional stone and turf will be added to the other side of the runway during the third and final phase of the project, which is currently winding its way through the bidding and FAA grant application processes. 

facts&figures

Project: Artificial Airfield Turf

Location: Ocean City (NJ) Municipal Airport 

Scope: 54,000 sq. ft. of synthetic turf & 6,200 sq. yards of crushed stone installed at both ends & along one side of 2,972-ft. airstrip (similar materials will be installed on other side in final phase of project)

Cost to Date: $762,040 ($81,400 for design, engineering & permits; $680,640 for earthwork & installation)  

Funding: $692,764 from pair of Airport Improvement Program grants; $69,276 from city

Design/Engineering: L.R. Kimball 

Synthetic Grass Supplier: AvTurf

Installation: Act Global, AvTurf parent company

Timeline: Turf installed along bay side & in safety areas Jan.- March 2020; installation on other side of runway is pending

Key Benefits: Discourages birds from grazing near runway; erosion control; reduced maintenance

Dwyer notes that safety is one of two key issues driving the project. Nearby wetlands, which attract seagulls and Canadian Geese in particular, create the right environment for bird strikes. Last year, the towerless airport served about 5,000 planes and experienced six minor wildlife incidents, all involving geese. 

“Our runway butts up to the bay, so we also have erosion issues,” he adds. “In fact, we are constantly battling erosion here on the island. When the tide comes up every 12 hours, and when we have high winds or bad swells or storms, the waters undermine the asphalt of the runway. The artificial turf is a way to address that.”

Dwyer reports that good working relationships with the FAA are helping facilitate the project. The federal and district offices both provided insights on the airport’s idea for bird and erosion control. The airport also worked with the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center, located about 20 miles away in Atlantic City, NJ, on the issue back in 2003. The island airfield provided a rigorous place to test how well AvTurf would stand up to weather and tides. 

The synthetic turf is manufactured from polyethylene fibers and is in-filled with sand to help secure the product to the ground, provide drainage and reduce its surface temperature in sunlight. 

The Turf Landscape

According to Daniel McSwain, vice president of sales and operations for AvTurf, about 30 airports around the world currently use artificial turf on their airfields. “They vary in size from small private airstrips like at Calhan, CO, to major hubs like Abu Dhabi, Chicago O’Hare, JFK, Dallas Fort Worth and Detroit,” he relates. “The main reason airports consider artificial turf is to enhance safety in one way or another.”

AvTurf is also environmentally friendly because it does not need to be watered, fertilized, treated with pesticides or mowed, notes McSwain. Company personnel estimate that airports save 55 gallons of water annually for every square foot of grass they replace with artificial turf.  

This aspect resonates with younger airport operators, architects and engineers, and is increasing demand for the product, reports McSwain. “As expansions become more difficult, airports have to look at alternative ways to keep their runways open and operational,” he adds. 

Advantages notwithstanding, artificial turf is generally not an easy sale. “In my 22 years of aviation experience, I’ve always found airports to be very risk-adverse—and rightfully so,” McSwain relates. “It takes open-minded regulators and airport operators to understand that new technologies and new ways of doing things aren’t always ‘risky’.” 

Using experienced installation crews is key to minimizing risk, he emphasizes. 

McSwain says that preparing the ground and installing the long rolls of turf is a fairly straightforward process, but it must be done just so. Crews from Act Global, AvTurf’s parent company, performed the recent work at Ocean City Municipal. In total, they installed 54,000 square feet of turf and 6,200 square yards of crushed stone along the entire length of the runway’s west/northwest side and in safety areas at both ends. 

“Workers excavated down from the asphalt, backfilled with crushed stone, compressed the stone down, laid the turf, then spread a thin layer of sand over the top of the turf to help hold it down,” explains McSwain. “Now, it’s essentially a retaining wall for erosion control.” 

L.R. Kimball, the Pennsylvania firm that designed and engineered the project, provided consulting support throughout installation. 

Dwyer was impressed by the crews’ work—especially the extra measures they took to keep the turf in position despite punishing island winds and tides. Installers constructed lines of composite two-by-fours that meet in points at the edges of the turf—one line on the runway side at the edge of the asphalt, and another line at the other edge of the turf. Workers secured the composite into the ground with rebar and hot-glued the turf to the two-by-fours. 

Although the project was relatively small in scope for the company, its crews had to endure cold weather and recurring worksite flooding caused by high tides. On the plus side, construction was not limited to nighttime hours because flight activity is very slow at the airport during winter, enabling the airport “to essentially shut down during construction”, McSwain notes. The deadline, however, was still a pervasive factor because the airfield needed to be clear when traffic picked up in the spring. 

To ensure consistency and facilitate installation of the new turf, crews removed the remaining section of AvTurf that had been installed 17 years ago during the FAA pilot project. (The other original test section was removed in 2010 to make way for a drainage pipe.) Dwyer reports that the synthetic turf had held up very well throughout the years, and topside weeds were the only evidence of its age. Tides had washed in sediment and seeds that grew into weeds, but the roots had not penetrated the turf.  

Dwyer is also optimistic about the new AvTurf. “We are definitely seeing an improvement in terms of the erosion,” he reports, adding that the airport has experienced several flooding and tidal events since installation. Also, he has noticed that just two months after the turf project, birds were moving away from the areas where it was installed. So “there have been good effects with the birds,” he notes. 

In the meantime, the airport continues to leverage another key wildlife management strategy: border collies. Under contract with the city, a company called Geese Chasers brings dogs to the airfield two to five times daily to scare away geese and other birds. The dogs also patrol other local sites such as school athletic fields. 

“We try to be as aggressive as possible to minimize safety hazards posed by birds,” says Dwyer. Strategies such as dogs and artificial turf allow the airport to avoid using lethal means. 

McSwain notes that birds aren’t the only type of wildlife that AvTurf can help manage. In 2014, Orlando Sanford Airport installed the product to help deter gopher tortoises from burrowing in runway safety areas. The FAA also used the project to test how artificial turf acts if a plane veers off the runway and into the safety area, in wet or dry conditions. “AvTurf performed very well with zero concerns,” reports McSwain. 

The product can also be used to help identify taxiways with markings, per a 2007 FAA Engineering Brief, 72A. Such markings can be an important safety matter for airports with concerns about inadvertent landings on taxiways, notes McSwain. 

Rules of Thumb

While Dwyer recognizes that every airport has different challenges, he feels that most operators could benefit from considering artificial turf. “Get on board with your consultants, the FAA and your local ADO, and set a plan,” he advises. “Ask plenty of questions. Those men and women are the experts, and they understand the needs of local airports. Talk with them and see what their thoughts are.”

He describes the change at Ocean City Municipal as a “positive force” and notes that turf projects don’t necessarily have to be complex matters. “It all starts with a simple conversation.”

Subcategory: 
Environmental

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