Photo by Kristen Williams

By Kristen Williams

On Aug. 31, the Federal Aviation Administration awarded an Airport Improvement Program grant of $907,980 to the City of Mesquite to reconstruct its perimeter fencing. AIP money is awarded to airports across the country for everything from acquiring land for approaches, to rehabilitating runways, to constructing terminal buildings. The amount of the grant is estimated to fund 93.75 percent of the total project budget of $968,513. The remaining 6.25 percent ($60,533.00) will be funded by the city.

According to Bill Tanner, Mesquite Public Works director and airport sponsor, the need to construct new wildlife deterrent perimeter fencing at the airport was identified in the master plan process and submitted to city council in June. Once it was approved, the grant application was submitted and the project plans and specifications were advertised for the public bidding process.

The city has received and evaluated the bids, and the apparent low bidder will be submitted to the FAA for approval within 30 days. Once approved, public works will submit back to city council, then award the job to the contractor within the following 30 days. Actual work on the project is expected to begin in November or December, with a projected 120 day work schedule.

The current fencing around the airport doesn’t keep wildlife off the airport grounds, including the runways. The grant application states the following in its objective: “The fence, when completed, will consist of 14,264 feet of 8-foot high wildlife deterrent fence (including 1,572 feet of subsurface Desert Tortoise fence on BLM land), 1,696 feet of 8′ high chain link fence, and 390 feet of sponsored installed block wall with an access controlled security gate. The existing barbed wire security fence will be removed in stages such that the airport perimeter is not compromised.”

Larry Lemieux has worked at the airport for around 21 years, and has never seen a tortoise at the facility. And while there haven’t been any incidents because of the wildlife he does see, he remarked “all it takes is once.” He said he mostly sees rabbits, and a lot of coyotes, on the property. The new, taller fencing and portions of subsurface fencing is designed to deter entry of indigenous wildlife to the facility.

The new fence will also bring added security to the airport, allowing automated access only to people with an entry card and/or code. Lemieux is the airport fueler and is on the property daily. There is also a house on the grounds so someone is at the airport 24/7.

Lemieux says the house will be removed once the project is complete as it will no longer be necessary.  As stated in the grant application, “The safety of pilots approaching and departing the airport will be greatly enhanced and improved by preventing wildlife and unauthorized personnel from entering the airport.”

Tanner said as of now, there are no additional plans for other improvement or growth projects that would benefit from further AIP grants, but the master plan report indicates there could be some projects in fiscal years 2018 and 2019.