Excursion Inlet floatplane dock among those targeted for DOT cuts
February 20, 2020
The Excursion Inlet floatplane dock, the small community’s sole source of mail delivery during harsh winter conditions, has been targeted for funding cuts by the Alaska Department of Transportation. The dock is one of 18 rural airport facilities across the state that DOT has identified for possible reductions, ownership transfers, or closures.
Although Excursion Inlet does not have a state-recognized airport, it does have a runway located on a gravel road shared with four-wheelers and vehicles along with the state-owned floatplane dock. Alaska Seaplanes advertises three scheduled flights each week in the summer, and one weekly flight during the winter.
Excursion Inlet is in a remote southern region of the Haines Borough. The 2010 Census listed 12 year-round residents and 85 housing units. The population swells in summer months due to the Ocean Beauty Seafoods cannery, fishing lodges and other tourism, and summer residents.
DOT officials plan to review the 18 airports on a case-by-case basis, engaging stakeholders to ensure DOT is aware of potential impacts before taking action.
In a House Finance Committee meeting in early February, John Binder, deputy commissioner of DOT, said he recognizes the emergency function of many rural airports. “We certainly do not have the intent to just rapidly close a bunch of airports,” he said. He said he hopes the public engagement process can be completed within a year.
DOT officials said challenges including decreased gas tax revenue, employee turnover, changing weather patterns and deferred maintenance resulted in the proposed cuts, which involves investigating options to reduce the number of public airports owned and operated by the state. Binder said he did not have a dollar amount of estimated state savings after reduced maintenance of rural airports.
Jila Stuart, Haines Borough finance director, said the borough paid $47,000 for maintenance to facilities in Excursion Inlet in June 2019, some of which went to the runway. Brad Ryan, facilities director at the time, said that the runway was graded and covered with gravel. “We improved the runway as a community service,” he said. Maintenance is also routinely performed by Ocean Beauty Seafoods.
Maureen DesRosiers first moved to Excursion Inlet as a 3-month-old and lived there as a child in the 1950s. She returned seven years ago after retiring from a career as a magistrate judge. She said airplanes are the only way to access Excursion Inlet year-round, as there is no ferry service, no harbor or other infrastructure for wintering boats, and barge service only in the summer months. When the runway is unusable in the winter due to ice buildup, the floatplane dock is the sole infrastructure available for receiving mail and supplies.
DesRosiers said that although the state has responsibility for maintaining the floatplane dock, getting funds for maintenance has been difficult. After a piling collar ripped loose last year, residents put ropes around it to hold the float in place. “The state spends pennies on the state’s scale to maintain life- dependent infrastructure here,” she said. “Cutting that would be a grave hardship for us residents, few that we are.”