Airport manager Ron Westbrook said repairing broken or stolen runway lights and lenses has cost the city more than $4,000 in the last four years.
Public Safety Director Charles “Dino” Richardson is investigating the vandalism and believes the pranksters are probably juveniles, he said.
Pranksters “need to think this is not a game to play,” Richardson said. Depending on the amount of damage, these pranks could be classified as interference with government property, a felony punishable by one to five years in prison, he said.
Richardson said he previously prosecuted several juveniles for vandalism and sought restitution from parents. The city always seeks restitution, ranging from $25 to $60 per lens, depending on the type broken.
Richardson and Westbrook fear an aircraft in trouble might need to make an emergency night landing at Barwick Field. If someone steals or breaks the lights, the pilot might not see all of the runway and crash. If someone dies as a result of the pranks, the vandals could be prosecuted for reckless endangerment and be liable in civil court, the chief said.
Stealing light bulbs and replacing the globes so no one knows the light will not be visible at night is “malice with intent to me,” Westbrook said.
Vandals once placed a globe on the runway’s centerline. A plane’s nose gear could have been damaged had he not discovered and removed the globe, he said.
Westbrook recently ordered more than $1,000 in parts to repair eight lights and to keep extras for future maintenance.
The lights, which were broken last week, were installed in the fall when the runway was extended in an effort to upgrade and expand the airport, he said.
Juveniles appear to be throwing rocks at the lights and smashing the lenses, he said. He believes juveniles also stole some of the lenses.
Fences surround many airports, reducing the risk of vandalism, he said. He is investigating erecting a fence on Chickamauga-Chattanooga Railroad’s right-of-way, which runs almost parallel to the runway.
Richardson asks anyone with information about the crimes to call him at his office at (706) 638-8500