COLUMBIA — Seeing a deer can be an enjoyable moment, but deer are not a welcome sight to Andrew Schneider or the Columbia Regional Airport crew.
That's why plans are in place to build a 10-foot fence around the perimeter of the airport to prevent wildlife from entering the property.
The wildlife fence was originally scheduled to be built in 2016, according to the airport’s master plan, but Schneider has made it a priority since becoming airport manager in November.
“By being proactive and installing our fence, we’re ensuring we don’t have any accidents,” he said.
Schneider said the plan is to build a 10-foot tall chain-link fence around the airport's air operations area. The exact length of the fence has not yet been determined.
Schneider said while wildlife has yet to interfere with airport operations, the potential is there.
“We’ve seen deer on airport property. We know they’re there,” Schneider said. “My hope is to get the fence in place before we have a problem rather than having an incident and then dealing with a problem.”
The Columbia City Council approved an agreement for Burns & McDonnell Engineering to begin engineering and designing the fence. According to the agreement, the project will cost no more than $104,015.
Jill Stedem, spokeswoman for the Columbia Public Works Department, said the Federal Aviation Administration will fund 95 percent of the project, and the remaining 5 percent will come from the city’s transportation sales tax.
Stedem said the airport's fence has not been replaced since the airport was built in 1969. She said this fence will be a little taller.
Wildlife biologist Bill Antonides of South Dakota, along with two other biologists, are doing an ecological assessment around the airport for Loomacres Wildlife Management, which is under contract with the city. That study began in August and will be done within two months.
Antonides said the crew spends five days per month surveying the airport property and land within a five-mile radius.
“It was apparent from the very first days and nights of survey work at the Columbia airport that deer were a potential problem,” Antonides said.
The crews also spends time determining what attracts hazardous wildlife to the area and what can be done to eliminate the attractions.
Antonides said fences are the simplest way to prevent large mammals from coming onto the airport’s property.
“A Federal Aviation Administration-approved fence will usually be 100 percent effective at keeping deer from an airfield,” Antonides said. “The airport is safe now, but when the fence is complete, it will be even safer.”
While wildlife biologists try to be environmentally friendly, Antonides said it is important to him to use environmentally and socially acceptable means to protect people.
“We don’t use poisons and lethal control of any kind is a last resort,” Antonides said. “We take care to not cause harm to the environment.”
Although deer and other mammals have kept their presence around the airport, Schneider said airport management has taken measures to prevent them and birds from coming onto the airfield.
“We haze the birds and use tactics to get the birds to go away,” Schneider said. “We do what we can. For example, we mow the grass at certain heights to prevent birds from landing.”
Schneider said there have been no plane accidents related to birds in quite some time.
The fence also will enhance the security of the airport, Schneider said.
Schneider said he hopes to start installing the fence later this year and to finish it before winter. “It’s only a matter of time before the deer decide to make the airport their home.”