As rain pounded down on the Juneau International Airport on Tuesday, Airport Superintendent Scott Rinkenberger drove past trucks and emergency vehicles left out in the weather.
There just isn’t room to store them, Rinkenberger said, and the brutal conditions take their toll on the equipment.
“It’s exposed to the elements, it’s exposed to temperature fluctuations, it’s hard mechanically on them,” Rinkenberger said. “We spend a lot of money on equipment repairs, and it’s directly related to it being exposed to the elements 365 days a year.”
Ninety percent of the airport’s snow removal equipment is left outside all year because the current storage facility simply doesn’t have room. As soon as this fall, though, that might change.
After around 25 years of planning and designing, the airport is nearly complete with a new storage area, currently known as the Snow Removal Equipment Building (SREB, pronounced “shreb”). The new building will be able to hold almost all of the equipment and is designed to be able to add more room in the future.
Leaving vehicles out in the rain and snow can result in mold and algae growing on the equipment, and fluctuations in temperature can lead to ice, causing damage. Rinkenberger said many of the vehicles are already past their prime and the weather doesn’t help.
“My maintenance staff is constantly battling with trying to keep this equipment up and running,” Rinkenberger said. “We encounter breakdowns quite a bit, and we directly attribute that to the way it’s stored.”
The new facility, which is being built on the west side of the airport by Mendenhall River, is estimated to cost around $20 million, much of which is covered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Rinkenberger hopes that this first phase of the project finishes up this fall. The next phase includes adding offices and repair rooms, and the third phase will add storage for sand and chemicals. The next two phases have yet to be funded, and there’s no start date estimated for those yet.
The building is designed for storing equipment, repairing it and ensuring that damages are kept to a minimum. Rinkenberger and other designers of the facility researched a number of other airports and how they took care of equipment. Rinkenberger said the Denver Airport and O’Hare Airport in Chicago were particularly interesting in the sense that they were major airports that had to deal with large amounts of snow.
One of the key improvements is the way vehicles enter the building. Rinkenberger said 90 percent of incidents with the vehicles occur when they’re backing up. With the SREB, vehicles will drive forward through a cleaning area. They’ll be automatically rinsed off and cleaned and then will proceed — while still driving forward — to their storage area.
These storage areas will be much roomier than the current storage areas. It’s a tight fit trying to get trucks with large brooms or plows attached to them into the garage. One vehicle had to be refitted in order to make it smaller and get it into the garage. This will not be a problem with the SREB.
Snow removal is a serious business for all airports, and Juneau’s is no different. This past winter (October through March), the airport removed 386,264 tons of snow by Rinkenberger’s calculations. This March, when more than 32 inches of snow fell, his staff was working around the clock and made it through the winter without ever having to shut down the airport due to runway conditions.
Having functional equipment is obviously a vital part of keeping snow off the runways, which Rinkenberger said has to be done carefully and thoroughly.
“It’s completely different from plowing a city street,” Rinkenberger said. “We have to take it to the asphalt. We can’t leave anything out there.”
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