Persistence Yields 100% Federal Funding for Runway Rehab at Dunsmuir Municipal

Persistence Yields 100% Federal Funding for Runway Rehab at Dunsmuir Municipal
Jodi Richards
Published in: 

Before Dunsmuir Mott Municipal Airport (MHS) could cut the ribbon on its newly rehabilitated runway last June, the $3.2 million investment was already delivering value to the surrounding region. With the airfield project still in its final stages, Dunsmuir city leaders received a request from the United States Forest Service to stage firefighting helicopters at the single-runway, city-owned airport.

Todd Juhasz, manager of the Northern California community, explains that dry lightning was forecasted in the region for the upcoming weekend. Allowing the response agency to preemptively locate eight Chinook helicopters at MHS helped firefighters battle California’s first big fire of 2021, which occurred just as the Forest Service predicted. 

Blake Michaelsen, finance manager for the city of Dunsmuir, notes that the need for airfield improvements was underscored when the runway was put to such importance use so quickly. “From the emergency services aspect, the firefighting operations the airport supports are critical,” says Michaelsen.


Project: Runway Rehabilitation

Location: Dunsmuir (CA) Mott Municipal Airport

Owner/Operator: City of Dunsmuir

Project Cost: $3.2 million

Funding: FAA Airport Improvement Program

Funding Consultant: Ford & Associates LLC

Project Timeline: Design began in 2018; bids were solicited & construction began in 2019; runway rehab completed in summer 2021

Paving Condition Index Study: Kimley-Horn

Rehabilitation Project Manager: Kimley-Horn

Project Designer: Kimley-Horn

Key Contractor: Tullis Construction Inc.

Of Note: Airport secured 100% funding from FAA vs. having to raise usual 5% from state & 5% from city

Dunsmuir is located about 50 miles north of Redding, CA, on Interstate 5. The local Chamber of Commerce describes the community as “a classic alpine village nestled in a river canyon, surrounded by pine forests and the majestic presence of Mount Shasta.”

Situated slightly above a valley, MHS is a popular alternative landing spot when fog impedes traffic at airports in the valley. Its sole runway, 14-3, consequently plays an important safety role for local aircraft operations. The airport logs approximately 2,200 annual operations and is home to 11 hangars—six owned privately and five owned by the city. 

Previously, MHS was owned and operated by the county of Siskiyou, but ownership and control was transferred to the city of Dunsmuir in 1964. With only a handful of hangars and no onsite fuel service, the airport has very limited revenue streams. Without a regular infusion of income or outside funding, the runway fell into disrepair over the years, Michaelsen explain.

Currently, the 126-acre airport’s main role is supporting emergency operations and firefighting aircraft, with flights for recreation and tourism a close second.

Securing Support, Funding

In 2003, the city engaged Carol Ford of Ford & Associates LLC to help secure grant money for maintenance and infrastructure improvements at the general aviation facility. “The city has less than 1,300 people, and it’s very hard for the community to support this airport all by itself,” Ford explains. “When we visited the FAA, we told them we needed a 100% infrastructure grant because the city could not afford the typical 5% local match.”

Ford emphasizes that support from the city manager and city council was especially critical for the project because of the time required to secure 100% funding. “It was a multi-year project to get this type of grant,” she recalls. “Persistence was key, and we just kept trying. Even those couple of years when we didn’t get grants, we kept knocking at the door of the FAA.”

Airport users also contributed—with sweat equity. “The pilots who operate here were instrumental in pushing for the project and getting this resurfacing done,” Michaelsen remarks. Throughout the years, Airport Advisory Commissioner Jerry Denham and other pilots who fly out of MHS would volunteer their time to fix things around the airfield and pull weeds emerging through cracks on the aging runway.

“We had probably a dozen airport community meetings to discuss the runway to figure out the configuration and what would work best,” Michaelsen recalls. “It was really a collaborative effort. Input from stakeholders really optimized the project and made it successful.”

Runway Reconstruction

A Pavement Condition Index study conducted by Kimley-Horn in 2017 rated Runway 14-32 in the 20s—exceptionally low on the 0 to 100 scale. “The pavement had served its useful life and needed to be reconstructed,” says Heath Hildebrandt, project manager for Kimley-Horn.

Another key catalyst for the reconstruction was a line of site issue. If two people stood at opposite ends of the 2,600-foot strip of asphalt, they could not see each other because of a large bump in the middle section. “It was a safety concern to remove that line of site issue, to make it a safer runway for pilots,” Hildebrandt emphasizes.

The airport selected Kimley-Horn to serve as project manager, and design work began in 2018. Bids were solicited from contractors and construction started in 2019, and the project was finished in summer 2021. To accommodate the reconstruction work, MHS closed its sole runway for the duration of the project. This allowed Tullis Construction to expedite its work schedule and complete paving operations in five weeks. Temporary striping was installed to accommodate firefighting operations while the new asphalt fully cured. Seven weeks later, contractors returned to install final striping and reflectors, and the airport opened the runway to all traffic in August.

During construction, crews pulverized the asphalt they removed from the aging runway and incorporated it into the base material for the rehabilitated runway. Recycling the asphalt saved time and money because the contractor did not need to export that material and import new base materials. “By optimizing the material on-site, we were able to minimize the runway closure time and minimize project costs,” Hildebrandt summarizes. 

In addition to a fresh surface, Runway 14-32 at MHS now has edge stripes. Previously, pilots struggled to see where the runway ended and the infield began because the runway shoulders were made of asphalt millings. Now, shoulder striping makes the runway edge more obvious, and pilots no longer have to rely solely on the centerline for important positional references.

Due to surrounding hills and trees, MHS was previously a very challenging airport to land at in the dark. During its recent rehab project, the airport replaced the runway’s aging electrical light system with new reflectors. “So it’s more for just daytime use,” says Kevin Fix, project engineer with Kimley-Horn. “However, you can land at night because you can see the reflectors three miles away.”

Compounding Benefits

In addition to enhancing safety for general aviation users and providing a strategic location to stage firefighting aircraft, the newly reconstructed runway is expected to help attract more traffic to MHS. And more traffic will help poise the airport for additional growth in the future, notes Hildebrandt.

“Just having the construction here was a boon to the area,” Ford adds. “Siskiyou is one of the poorest counties in the state of California. The airport gets the primary result of having a wonderful runway surface, and then the entire area experiences increased tourism. So it benefits all the way around.”

Looking ahead, MHS officials hope that a proposed taxiway system project will be next for the airport. Michaelsen reports that designers are already working on a north end taxiway. Once it is funded and built, a south end taxiway project could follow and possibly an FBO with fuel service after that. “With the airport’s new runway and the city’s proximity to the I-5 corridor, Dunsmuir is poised for growth,” he comments.

“The runway is certainly a long-awaited improvement,” Ford adds. “It’s been much more than 20 years since it had been tended to.”


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