In an email update, Leslie Gray, Federal Aviation Administration manager of the project, said the preferred that options for the runway safety area renovation involve an extension of the airport into Jewel Bay and Chiniak Bay, not into the ecologically sensitive river mouth.
“This is truly good news,” said Stacy Studebaker, head of the Kodiak Audubon Society. “Nobody here was for it, that’s for sure.”
Rick Rowland, environmental director of the Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak, agreed.
“It was really good to see today,” he said. “I thought it was a big win-win.”
The airport project being planned was begun in 2005 under a federal law that requires more safety space around airport runways in the United States. The project must be complete by 2015.
An initial plan put forward by the FAA would have extended the airport almost 1,000 feet into the Buskin River mouth. Public outcry caused the FAA to reconsider, and on Friday, the FAA revealed its preferred alternative.
That alternative would shift runway 18/36, the main north-south runway, to the south, into what is now Jewel Bay near the Coast Guard base. At the north end of the runway, closest to the Buskin River, engineers will build a pit filled with specially designed material that will stop any airplane that slides off the end of the runway. The airport’s boundary with the Buskin River recreation area would not change.
On the airport’s other major runway, 7/25, engineers will build into Chiniak Bay, since Barometer Mountain and the Chiniak Highway prevent construction the other direction.
By telephone, Gray cautioned that the choice is still preliminary.
“It doesn’t mean they’ll get selected, but … we’re making it known that we’re potentially headed that way,” she said.
The choice will not be finalized until late this year, when the FAA releases an environmental impact statement and gives the public a chance to comment.
But because public opposition to the project has stemmed from its impact on the Buskin River, Kodiakans are hailing the FAA’s decision.
“We’re going to hope for the best when they mention it to the public,” Rowland said. “The alternatives they mentioned in their email look as if they’ll address all of the environmental concerns.”
If the plan is approved later this year, more work remains. Wolfgang Junge, the airport planning project manager for the state of Alaska, sayid it will take years to obtain permits and actually build the runway safety areas.
“We’d like to have a full two years to build this, and if they keep to their schedule and bid this next year, we should be able to finish by the deadline,” he said.
Ninety-five percent of the project will be paid for with federal money, Junge said. The remaining money will come from a state match. Junge said he expects the total cost to be at least double the $24 million being spent this year to repave the airport’s runways.
Junge said survey crews will begin examining the ground around the airport and immediately offshore this year, allowing permitting to move forward as soon as the plan is finalized.