ST. GEORGE — The St. George Airport will reopen after a four-month closure and a $26 million runway repair.
The airport closed in May for a complete rebuild of the runway after the tarmac cracked due to drainage issues caused by expansive blue clay in the soil underneath.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for the last four months, but really for the last month because there’s been so much to do to make sure the airport is open on time,” said airport manager Rich Stehmeier.
The airport is less than 10 years old but because of those drainage issues, the pavement started buckling.
It sunk in some parts and rose in others, reaching the point where there was a one-foot variation in parts of the runway.
“Sometimes you build things, engineers design things, and the FAA approves things, and they don’t work,” he said.
Many people wanted to know who was responsible for the flaws, which were noted by an engineer’s report when the airport was built.
“Who’s going to get hung or who’s going to get in trouble, and I said, you know, I’m not really that kind of a guy,” Stehmeier said. “I’m more of, here’s a problem, let’s get it fixed, and let’s move forward.”
Under his leadership, St. George city leaders hired a contractor to get the job done correctly.
Seventeen feet of expansive soils and blue clay were dug out underneath the runway during the repairs.
That blue clay was blamed as a major part of the problem.
New construction also added drainage, moisture barriers and a mile of new runway pavement.
“All the things we believe needed to be done were done,” said St. George Mayor Jon Pike.
The project cost nearly $26 million.
That money was divided between the city, the Federal Aviation Administration and other federal infrastructure funds.
However, city leaders believe the old problem is now gone.
“We knew we had clay here,” Pike said. “We didn’t realize just how bad and how aggressive the clay was. This was really kind of virgin soil, you know? No one had ever built here before. So, we now believe with all the checking, the double-checking and triple checking of all the engineers’ numbers, the FAA, we said 'what all should we do? What can we do?' And we did everything that everyone said we ought to do.”
Officials held an open house Wednesday for anybody who wanted to see the new runway.
A shuttle bus took two dozen people at a time onto the tarmac and runway.
On Thursday, the first flights start back, only this time it’s not just flights going to Salt Lake City, Denver, Los Angeles and Phoenix.
American Airlines is starting flights to and from Dallas-Fort Worth out of St. George.
“In terms of what this means to the community, it’s huge,” Pike said.
Everyone knew the old runway and closure was a costly mistake, but those at the open house are excited to look forward.
“We should be good to go after I’m long gone,” Stehmeier said.