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Engineers, builders rev up for Eureka airport job

Anne Knowles
aknowles@nnbw.biz

The finished runway at the Eureka County Airport included numbers painted in stripes to help keep the asphalt from freezing.
Michael Bennett |

When Lumos & Associates bid on the Eureka County Airport runway reconstruction project, the Carson City engineering firm knew it wouldn’t be easy.

While under construction, the runway would need to be made available within minutes of notice for emergency medical flights or firefighting crews. The project required working with the Federal Aviation Administration, which has strict rules about materials and oversight. And the work would need to be completed quickly.

But no one knew Murphy’s Law would kick in.

“I remember waking up and finding out there was snow on the ground,” says Michael Bennett, the professional engineer who was Lumos’ construction manager on the project. “We didn’t have time for a snow day.”

That was June 5, when an unexpected late spring snowstorm hit the Diamond Valley north of Eureka where the airport is located, just days into the $3 million project.

“We had to get all the decision makers together and say we were going to work through this,” says Bennett.

Lumos and Road and Highway Builders, the construction firm, didn’t have time to spare. They had just 21 days to redo the 7,300-foot by 60-foot wide runway and 73,500-square-foot apron — a project that Lumos initially estimated needed twice the time.

“It was, by far, the largest and shortest airport project we’ve ever had,” says Bennett.

The time constraints meant Lumos had to look for ways to expedite construction. But that often put them at odds with FAA rules.

For example, the FAA wanted the entire runway area excavated to allow water to drain below the frost line, says Bennett, so the asphalt wouldn’t freeze. But that would have sent the cost of the project, which Eureka County was financing with an FAA grant, out of reach.

Instead, Lumos was able to show the FAA that the problem was isolated to the area under the runway’s white painted lines, which were reflecting the sun, freezing and buckling. That reduced excavation by 98 percent.

Lumos also worked with the FAA to allow asphalt that met Nevada Department of Transportation standards rather than stricter FAA specifications.

In the meantime, the runway had to be quickly put back to work for two separate medical emergencies and for two helicopters and one fixed-air command fighting the 2,800-acre Pinto Fire.

In the end, the construction contractor moved nearly 20,000 cubic yards of earth, mixed 1,400 tons of cement, laid 11,000 tons of asphalt and hauled half a million gallons of construction water. At its busiest, the project had about 70 people working on it, many toiling 12 to 16 hour days. And it came on time, on budget and without any safety incidents.

“The timeframe kicked everyone into overdrive,” says Bennett