Kodiak Airport runway extension example of compromise

A recently completed runway extension at the Kodiak Airport originally produced environmental concerns among local groups and a tribal organization, but some members of the community say they’re satisfied with the compromise that was reached.

Tom Lance, the natural resources director for the Sunaq Tribe of Kodiak, said the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities ended up extending one runway 600 feet into the ocean by the Buskin River. He said there was another extension in the Jewel Beach area by the Coast Guard base, and the state extended that runway a little bit and slightly realigned it.

Lance explained the Sun’aq Tribe’s original source of worry when the Federal Aviation Administration began seeking comment in Kodiak about its draft environmental impact statement in 2012 was that the extension at the Buskin River would disturb the estuary there. He said that fresh water / salt water transition zone is an important area for migrating salmon leaving or entering the river.

“There’s a physiological change that takes place that allows them to do that in there and they need that transition zone, and so that was a concern we had that somehow the extension of the runway out into the bay would impact that and also we were concerned about just covering up existing habitat,” Lance said.

Lance said the FAA agreed to work with the Sun’aq tribe at the last minute to take part of the mitigation money that was originally carved out for the runway extension and direct it towards the Sun’aq Tribe’s ongoing survey of the runway and its effects.

“As you know, they did cover a portion of a reef and they extended out into tidelands with that runway extension and they gave some money, $450,000 of that to the Sun’aq tribe to use for a long-term study to basically just monitor the changes over time,” Lance said.

Lance said it took a year to hammer out the final details and Sun’aq began work on the project last fall, when it first got into the water to place data loggers, which record information like temperature and are attached to buoys. He said they’re currently monitoring the area and, if they see something that raises a red flag, at least they’ll have data to back up their observations and remedy the situation.

“Maybe we need to improve the kelp beds to provide more hiding cover for example for outgoing smolt and that sort of thing,” Lance said. “There’s many different things that could be done when you go to manipulate habitat, but the tribe I think was very happy with the end result.”

Other members of the community expressed concern about the environmental impact of the extensions, including long-term resident and retired biologist, Pat Holmes. He expresses satisfaction with the outcome from meetings between the FAA and local groups like the Sun’aq Tribe and subsistence fishermen.

“I thought that they came up with quite a good compromise with that runway system that they built rather than going out what was a thousand feet plus the base,” Holmes said. “Anyway, I think that that was the best they could do, because we could use a little extra safety here. As everyone knows, when you’re making a flight in on a foggy day and holding your breath with everyone else, that’s a good thing to have.”

Holmes said he believes the FAA did a good job getting public input.

According to a press release from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, the department completed the Kodiak Airport Runway Safety Area Extension for $59 million.

Kayla Deroches is a reporter at KMXT in Kodiak.

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