DOT outlines airport project plan
About 20 residents with questions ranging from dropping off airline passengers to fisheries impacts attended an Oct. 21 meeting on a $5.7 million airport improvement project. Work is slated to start in spring 2015.
The meeting was to show the proposed preliminary design of the work, which will rebuild apron areas, remove four hangars, fill a pond, move the parking lot and resurface all paved areas. It also will add apron lighting and rebuild an existing perimeter fence.
The state’s environmental assessment of the project is due out in May.
Department of Transportation officials said the project is in line with the 2004 Haines Airport Master Plan and necessary to remove standing water on the apron. “We’re battling low-lying areas that freeze in the wintertime and make use of the airport difficult,” said project manager Keith Karpstein.
The project will lift the apron between six inches and four feet, creating a high point or “crown” in the middle that will allow it to drain through a series of surface drains, Karpstein said.
A secondary purpose is to eliminate a wildlife attractant created by a .9 acre pond there that attracts birds. “East Pond” also has been identified as a productive toad nursery by a local reptile biologist, but that’s part of the problem, DOT officials said.
“Toads just invite other wildlife, including birds. Toads get run over by planes or other (state) equipment. It creates a dead-toad zone and birds are flying in for them,” Karpstein said. The pond and a swampy area directly north of it will be filled. Water flowing into the ponds will be redirected to join the waters of Yendeistakye Creek, improving flows there.
Airport officials at the meeting said the federal government has increased safety protocols for avoiding bird strikes with aircraft nationwide following the “Miracle on the Hudson” emergency landing by a jet that lost power after flocks of geese were sucked into its engines.
Sam Wright, a 25-year commercial pilot flying out of Haines, told the CVN he’s never collided with a bird in Haines, but local DOT foreman Matt Boron, who’s responsible for the airport, said he chases them off the runway almost every morning. There can be thousands of seagulls there during the annual eulachon run and a flock of white-fronted geese that came through in April wouldn’t disperse even when “cracker” shells were fired at them, Boron said.
“They were not scared of anything. When we have trouble like that, we’re out (at the airport) often,” Boron said.
The airport’s parking lot will be moved to a position behind the terminal and across the airport access road, to make room for more lease lots. That new lot will require filling .7 acres of wetlands and relocating a section of Yendeistakye Creek there. Lynette Campbell, chief of aviation leasing for DOT in Southeast, said that besides the four hangars west of Wings of Alaska that must find new space at the airport, interest in leasing has been expressed to the state. “With accommodating the four moved (hangars) and the interest we’ve gotten, we could be filled in a few years,” she said.
Assembly member Debra Schnabel asked if the new design would incorporate “drop-off” zones so elderly passengers, for example, wouldn’t have to walk the distance from the parking lot. Campbell said both airline offices at the airport are privately managed, but Schnabel’s concern was a legitimate one that should be addressed when determining the area needs of airline’s lease lots.
Takshanuk Watershed Council Executive Director Brad Ryan asked how his group could get engaged in the mitigation plan. Ryan said waiting until the official environmental document is released “always seems late in the game.”
Resident Ben Kirkpatrick, a former habitat biologist for the State of Alaska, said in an interview after the meeting that the state needs to compensate for unavoidable impacts, including replacing wetland functions and fish habitat, as well as addressing the toad pond. Kirkpatrick told DOT officials he’d like to see mitigation work in the valley, rather than a financial contribution to a regional land trust, another accepted form of mitigation.
“There’s a lot of places in the valley that need help. This is an opportunity to start doing that,” Kirkpatrick said.