FAA Answers Critics, Scales Back Runway Project

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Jacob Resneck/KMXT

Planning continues on a multi-million project to improve aircraft safety at Kodiak. The FAA wants to expand safety areas as buffers on both ends of a runway to protect aircraft during takeoffs and landings. But the project has biologists concerned about impacts on the Buskin River. KMXT’s Jacob Resneck reports.

— FAA runway pkg 7:38 "For the past five … I’m Jacob Resneck."

For the past five years, the Federal Aviation Administration has been working on a plan to create buffer zones on both runways. FAA Civil Engineer Mike Edelmann says it’s all part of a nationwide initiative.

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There are two runways, one running east-west and one running north-south. But as the airport lies on the shore of Chiniak Bay there isn’t a lot of room for error, says Edelmann.

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Earlier draft plans had proposed extending the north-south runway’s footprint by as much as 1,200 feet in each direction. That would run right into the mouth of the Buskin River, a recreation area managed by Alaska State Parks. Kevin Murphy is the district ranger.

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FAA says the 1,200 foot extension is now off the table. It hasn’t officially released its new set of alternatives. That will come when it releases its draft environmental report this summer. But Edelmann says FAA planners are now envisioning a scaled back plan that would lessen the amount of fill in the bay.

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Even so, biologists are still concerned.

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That’s Will Frost, a habitat biologist with Alaska Department Fish and Game. His agency and others have been urging the FAA to expand to the south and not fill north toward the river.

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Fish and Game’s concerns are shared by U.S. Fish and Wildlife which manages the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. Refuge Manager Gary Wheeler says he’d also like FAA to minimize filling in the bay.

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These concerns have been put into writing FAA says they’re trying to compromise. They’ve already scaled back their plan once. But shifting the runway approach south has its own set of problems as it would change how aircraft would make their approach, says Edelmann.

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In other words, there are mountains in the way. So how iron-clad is this mandate passed by Congress which FAA says has an absolute deadline of 2015? Here’s Edelmann’s answer.

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Another piece of the puzzle is the U.S. Coast Guard which owns the land that’s leased to the civilian airport. Lt. Tracey Torba is the facilities engineer planning officer for the Kodiak Air Station. She says the latest scaled back plan is a good compromise.

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Consultation with state and federal agencies is continuing. Gary Wheeler says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and are others will remain engaged.

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Meanwhile a draft plan is expected by late summer or early fall. After the draft is released the project will go to a public hearing. The FAA estimates the project will cost $25 million for each runway, putting the total cost at $50 million. FAA maintains a website specifically for the Kodiak project. It’s at KodiakAirportEIS dot COM.

I’m Jacob Resneck

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