In 2005, Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey inserted an amendment into an FAA funding bill that requires certified U.S. airports to establish safety areas by 2015.
In Kodiak, the process to insert the 1,000-foot-long safety zones began in 2006 but immediately ran into obstacles.
Fishermen objected to proposals that might alter the course of the Buskin River, while park lovers and bird watchers were aghast at the idea of disturbing migratory bird areas at the mouth of the river.
Pilots hated the idea of shortening the airport’s runways, and the Coast Guard didn’t care for the idea of expanding the airport in the direction of its core buildings.
In the five years since planners began meeting with Kodiak residents, plans have been pushed forward and moved back.
The major stumbling block is the EIS, or environmental impact statement, required for federal projects, said Leslie Grey, who is drafting the EIS for the FAA.
“This is an extremely challenging project in terms of the environmental impacts and the impacts to aviation,” she said.
Last month, Grey presented the latest alternatives the FAA is preparing to suggest in its EIS.
So far, the group drafting the plan has thrown out plans to reduce the length of the airport’s runways, to shift the point at which planes can land on them, or to relocate the runways.
The options now being considered involve building out into Chiniak Bay, south toward the Coast Guard base, north along the spit of land at the mouth of the Buskin River, or some combination of all three.
Also being considered is the use of an “engineered materials arresting system,” the FAA’s term for materials that partially collapse under the weight of an airplane, slowing a runaway aircraft without damaging it.
In the report, Grey wrote that among the alternatives, a key idea is to reduce the amount of fill that would be needed to the north of the airport, where the Buskin River is.
“It’s always challenging when you’re surrounded by water,” Grey said. “This is a particularly tough one.”
Originally, the EIS had been scheduled for completion in spring 2010. So far, not even a draft with a recommended option has been produced. With construction expected to take at least a year, time is rapidly becoming a factor if the FAA hopes to finish by its congressionally imposed deadline.
“We’re working very, very hard, and we think we can get there,” Grey said. “We’re hopeful to have the draft EIS released by next summer or fall.”
After the draft, the FAA will again take public comments, respond to each one and prepare a final EIS. That would mean the final EIS could be ready by 2013.
That’s already too late for the project to be incorporated with a state-funded runway repaving project that just completed its first construction season.
“We had hoped to be done with the EIS a lot earlier so that would have gone together,” Grey said.
Regardless of the option the FAA picks, Grey said the runways won’t all be simply torn up again, destroying the work being done now.
“I think the hardest part would be just that there’s more construction, carrying through when this finishes up,” she said.
Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the airport safety area project, and to see maps of the proposed options, visit the project’s website at www.kodiakairporteis.com.