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Aquifers could be behind runway problems

The runway at the Lawton airport is showing signs of damage, and aquifers could be partially behind it. (Source KSWO) The runway at the Lawton airport is showing signs of damage, and aquifers could be partially behind it. (Source KSWO)
(Source KSWO) (Source KSWO)

LAWTON, OK (KSWO) -Officials at the Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport think aquifers under the runway may be contributing to its deterioration.

After noticing crumbling and cracking, the Lawton airport announced they was no longer allowing large aircraft to take off or land since it was not built for that additional weight in February.

After officials noticed an unusual, rapid decline in the runway, engineers were called in to investigate. That's when one of them pulled up a piece of sealant that was used to repair a crack and saw water bubbling from beneath.

It’s problems like these that airport director Barbara McNally says they have to continually repair. She says they're eager to get them fixed once and for all.

"It's a critical thing. You know, without a runway really we would be a bus station, right? I mean, we have to have a runway that is going to accommodate what we need it to accommodate. So, I can't really say that it's shocking it's just, you know, it's a matter of a daily course of maintaining an airport," McNally said.

McNally says if underlying aquifers exist, one solution would be to install French drains under the runway, something she says won't be an easy or inexpensive task.

"That's going to have to be a total reconstruction of the runway. Not an overlay, you know, not just a fix like a repair, but it's going to have to be a ground up reconstruction and that's what's going to be so costly," McNally said.

It would cost the airport around $25 million to replace the entire runway with the same weight limit. The cost jumps to $35 million if they elect to replace the runway with one that can handle heavier aircraft. McNally says over time, the runway has started to show wear and discoloration. She says up until recently, she thought it was just staining left from rain, but after an engineer came to investigate he had another theory.

"We thought it was water that was like rain water that would had just dried there and left a ring. his theory was that was the lime that was in the stabilizer that is underneath the subgrade that was percolating up and then it was leaving that white stains there," McNally said.

With all the recent rainfall, McNally says their problems on the tarmac have only been compounded.

"Our inspector, when he was here last week, believed that they were actually bowing up. You could see where they were flat and then a section of pavement was actually lifted up," McNally said.

Whether or not there are aquifers under the runway won't be determined until a concrete engineer company is hired. McNally says they hope the Federal Aviation Administration will help with the funding if the aquifers are determined and extensive repairs need to be made.

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