City slates $6.6M cleanup of municipal airstrip

Source: City of Chandler. Ken Sain/ Times Media Group

For many decades, the cheapest and best way for Chandler farmers to spread pesticides to protect their crops was by air and the two primary companies providing that service flew out of Chandler Municipal Airport.

But by the end of the 1980s, farmers found a ground-based method that was cheaper than flying and the crop-dusting industry came to an end.

However, the pesticides that spilled when the planes were being loaded and unloaded at the airport remain. Now, the City of Chandler has included a $6.6 million budget item in this year’s budget to clean that up.

“Because of their operations and just the nature of how they mix things, the pesticides and herbicides were spilled on the ground in that area to a level enough that it impacts our ability to develop it,” said Ryan Reeves, the city’s airport manager.

“So, part of this project is to clean up the soils, to remove those pesticides and herbicides that remain there. And there is an old landfill that was discovered during the process. It’s just construction debris, it looks like, so we’re also going to clean that up.”

After years of waiting on approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration for its updated master plan, the city is gearing up to move forward with developing more of the vacant land at the airport.

The area south and east of the runways offers nearly a blank canvas to work with.

Reeves called the area requiring an environmental cleanup the “beach-front property” of that stretch because it’s right in the middle across from the tower.

Airport officials anticipate once it gets cleaned up, it will be the prime location for bidders.

The city intends to try something new for the cleanup instead of hauling the soil out, according to Jon Sherrill, the city’s environmental program manager.

“Because they’d be classified as hazardous waste, it would have to go to a hazardous waste landfill, which would be out of state,” he explained. “That’s very expensive. To dig in hauling materials, as well as transporting it, there’s potential exposures.”

Sherrill said the estimates the city received to haul that soil to appropriate landfills in either Nevada or Utah was about $21 million.

For less than a third of that price tag, the city has another idea and “it’ll all be contained on the site.”

He said crews will treat the soil on site. “It’s a process where chemicals are added to it. Then they’ll monitor over time until the materials, or the … pesticides, herbicides are removed to a level that’s safe.”

He said the city wants that level to be good enough for residential development so that there are no road blocks preventing the land from getting developed.

That is only one potential roadblock.

Another is the lack of utilities on that side of the airport and a third is the current lack of access.

The city is hoping those two roadblocks will be removed by a project Chandler voters approved in the 2021 bond election.

The city intends to build a road that will connect the part of Cooper Road that is south of the airport to Insight Way, which is east of the airport. The road would follow along the outside perimeter of the airport.

That would give any businesses that want to develop the site a way in.

Paying for the infrastructure for utilities, water and electric would to be negotiated between the city and developers.

Some of the space to be developed would be used for much needed hangars. There is currently a wait list for parking at the airport.

Other uses would likely be for air-related businesses.

“The reason that cost is so is as high as it is is because what we’re doing is cleaning up the site, so there’s no restrictions for the use of the site,” Sherrill said.

“We’re going to clean it up to allow workers to be there without protective equipment and that kind of stuff.”

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