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Marines, Seabees pass midway point on Airport in the Sky runway rebuild on Catalina Island

A CH-53E helicopter with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 361 prepares to land at the Airport in the Sky on Santa Catalina Island, California, Jan. 3.

DAVID BICKEL/U.S. MARINE CORPS PHOTO

By ERIKA I. RITCHIE | The Orange County Register | Published: March 5, 2019

CATALINA ISLAND, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — A company of Marines and about a dozen Navy Seabees are more than halfway through rebuilding the 77-year-old, decaying runway at Catalina Island’s Airport in the Sky.

On Friday, March 1, military leaders from the Department of Defense, U.S. Marine Corps and Navy, along with members of the Catalina Island Conservancy, local politicians and island residents, gathered at the airport’s ACE Clearwater Airfield to view the progress. About 60 people turned out for Distinguished Visitor Day.

Despite heavy rains, the $5 million project has progressed well and is about 51 percent complete. The runway is scheduled to be finished by early to mid-April.

The project is a public/private partnership between the Marines Corps, the U.S. Navy and the Catalina Island Conservancy. It is part of the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training Program, matching community needs with military training opportunities.

The partnership to repair the runway began after 18 months of collaboration with the conservancy, with the help of U.S. Rep Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, and the California Department of Transportation.

“I’ve heard about the need and have seen the need to fix the airport runway for many years,” Lowenthal said Friday. “This is a wonderful model.”

Lowenthal was among the officials in attendance, along with California State Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell and Avalon Mayor Pro Tem Cinde MacGugan-Cassidy.

In mid-December, 500 tons of equipment was delivered to the island, with troops coming over Jan. 2. Since early January, the troops have excavated earth, surveyed the site, and prepared the site for concrete-pouring.

Brig. Gen. Rick Uribe, deputy commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, discussed the importance of training Marines and sailors for deployments worldwide.

“This is providing a great training venue in a place that we’re not getting shot at, so that is kind of a benefit,” Uribe said. “The challenge is there to make our Marines better at what they do. Building a runway like this at this magnitude, to my knowledge, is something we’ve never done before.”

Marine Capt. Nicole Stockham is overseeing the work. On Friday, she and Uribe gave out challenge coins to troops for exceptional achievement.

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©2019 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
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