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Seward Airport Improvement Project

Frequently Asked Questions and Comment Themes

The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the project team thank you for your comments on the Seward Airport Improvements Project. Below are the questions we’ve heard most frequently and our responses.

Questions

  1. When will the improvements be selected and built? Where are we in the project process?
  2. Why is this project needed?
  3. What alternatives are currently being considered?
  4. Could a solution, like placing culverts under Runway 13/31 or using concrete to stabilize the base, work for this project?
  5. Why isn’t the project considering dredging as a solution?
  6. Which of the project alternatives would support jet operations? Prior to the current aircraft weight restrictions Seward Airport received about five private jets a summer, and there is potential for (and a desire for) more private and commercial jet operations in the future.
  7. Why can’t this project build a new runway sized for jet aircraft?
  8. The Seward Airport is important to this community and economic development opportunities. Can’t this project better support the economic development goals of the City of Seward, which considers jet service an economic driver? Please consider economic impacts when evaluating alternatives.
  9. Have you considered the Coast Guard’s C-130 operations in the traffic counts? Can Seward have a longer runway to support Coast Guard operations?
  10. Aren’t two runways needed so that pilots have options in varying wind conditions?
  11. Alternatives 2 and 3 would block access to floatplanes that access the water by backing down the road at the end of the airport to the tidal flats. What can be done about that?
  12. Will the project alternatives include a fence? Commenters valued being able to cross airport property to access the mudflats and airport hangars.
  13. Is doing nothing an option?
  14. When and how will natural resource impacts from Alternatives 2.2 and 3.0 on the wetlands/tidal flats/estuary area be considered?
  15. Will the project consider impending sea-level rise and storm erosion related to Alternatives 2.2 and 3.0, since these alternatives move the airport closer to the ocean?
  16. Isn’t the use of the jetty/mudflats for Alternatives 2.2 and 3.0 an incompatible use because the area is already used by birds, and the Alaska Railroad Corporation has plans for a marine terminal expansion project that would add tall cranes and other potential protrusions to airspace?
  17. When will costs beyond construction costs (such as socioeconomic, environmental, property acquisition, and so on) be determined and be part of the evaluation process? Also, the project should consider the cumulative impact cost of closing an existing facility (Runway 13/31) versus rehabilitating it or converting it to some other use.
  18. What was the range of opinions received on the project?

Answers

  1. When will the improvements be selected and built? Where are we in the project process?
    It is hopeful that project construction will begin in 2018; however this is highly dependent upon the durations that each of the following project phases.

    The project team is following a federal and state process that involves these five phases:
    • Project Scoping,
    • Environmental,
    • Right of Way Acquisition,
    • Detailed Design and
    • Construction.

    Currently, the project is wrapping up the Project Scoping phase and beginning the Environmental phase. The Project Scoping phase will end when the Scoping Report is complete. This report will identify the alternatives to advance for further study in the Environmental Phase. Information gathered during the April 2016 public open house and input from the project’s Stakeholder Working Group will be considered in selecting which alternatives to advance, including a no-build alternative.
  2. Why is this project needed?
    The Seward Airport Improvements project has two primary purposes. The first is to develop engineering solutions that will protect airport facilities from further damage caused by recurrent flooding of the Resurrection River. The second purpose is to correct deficiencies that exist based on the airport’s function and FAA design standards. The main runway is in the direct path of the river, and continues to experience damaged by recurrent flooding. Testing has revealed a weakened embankment under the pavement, necessitating a restriction of allowable aircraft weights. The goal of the project is to identify an alternative that will meet the aviation needs of the community, allow cost-effective maintenance of facilities within the dynamic floodplain environment, and ensure that the airport continues to be operational.
  3. What alternatives are currently being considered?
    The alternatives under consideration are listed below, with key features noted. For more detail visit the online Document Library. You might need to refer back to this summary as you read the other FAQs and the responses.
    • NO CHANGE TO THE EXISTING FACILITY:
      • Runway 13-31 (main runway) 4,249 feet x 100 feet
      • Runway 16-34 (crosswind runway) 2,289 feet x 75 feet
    • ALTERNATIVE 1.1: Reconstruct Existing Main Runway 13-31 (4,249 feet x 75 feet).
      • Reconstruct and raise Runway 13-31 above the 100-year flood level. Install riprap to protect the embankment from flooding.
    • ALTERNATIVE 2.2: Shift Existing Crosswind Runway (16-34) East & Add 1,011 Feet (3,300 feet x 75 feet)
      • Close Runway 13-31.
      • Reconstruct and raise Runway 16-34 above the 100-year flood level.
      • Install riprap to protect the embankment from flooding.
      • This is the most viable alternative in terms of design and engineering considerations. It would meet the community’s near-term aviation needs for general aviation and medevac operations.
    • ALTERNATIVE 3.0: Shift Existing Crosswind Runway 16-34 East & Extend by 1,711 Feet (4,000 feet x 75 feet)
      • Close Runway 13-31.
      • Reconstruct and raise Runway 16-34 above the 100-year flood level.
      • Install riprap to protect the embankment from flooding.
      • Requires an additional funding source, which has not been identified or secured. The additional 700 feet of runway length does not qualify for federal funding.
  4. Could a solution, like placing culverts under Runway 13/31 or using concrete to stabilize the base, work for this project?
    Culverts would be hydraulically inadequate and difficult to maintain due to sediment accumulation. To pass the water and sediment under Runway 13/31 and the taxiway effectively, a significant bridge at each location would be required. The cost of these bridges would be financially impracticable. Use of concrete stabilized base would be structurally inadequate against the erosion forces of the river.
  5. Why isn’t the project considering dredging as a solution?
    The DOT&PF consulted with various hydrologists regarding the idea of rerouting the river away from the airport. The project’s hydrologic studies conclude that there is no guarantee that an excavated channel would remain stable, or redirect flows, as intended (see River Behavior Considerations for Channel Excavation, HMM, May 2016). This solution would require continual maintenance and permitting, as well as a dedicated funding source and staff to manage the effort, not feasible especially with on-going state budget cuts. For these reasons, this option is not practicable.
  6. Which of the project alternatives would support jet operations? Prior to the current aircraft weight restrictions Seward Airport received about five private jets a summer, and there is potential for (and a desire for) more private and commercial jet operations in the future.
    Alternative 1.1, with a runway length of 4,249 feet, would support small jet traffic.
    Alternative 3.0, with its 4,000-foot runway, would accommodate some small jets. However, this alternative is considered the “long-term” or “growth” scenario, meaning that FAA (the project’s primary funding source) could not fund the construction of Alternative 3.0 at this time.(See the next question for the reason why).
  7. Why can’t this project build a new runway sized for jet aircraft?
    FAA design guidance requires that the size an airport’s facilities correspond to the most demanding aircraft (or family of aircraft) that REGULARLY use the airport (currently or in the near-future). Regular use is defined as 500 operations (landings or takeoffs) each year. The project team researched operations at the airport for the past several years. As a result of this research, the team has determined that the most demanding aircraft at the Seward Airport is the King Air B200, which is used for medical evacuations. This aircraft, plus others in this family of aircraft, meet the 500 operations threshold and can easily be accommodated with a 3,300-foot runway. Larger aircraft (jets) do not come close to meeting the 500 operations requirement. Therefore, a finding of this project is that existing and near-term future use of the airport (aviation demand) would be met with one runway that is 3,300 feet long by 75 feet wide. This facility would accommodate the King Air B200, which is used for medical evacuations, current general aviation (GA) operations, King Air passenger service charters, and Beech 1900 passenger aircraft (with restricted takeoff weights). The proposed runway length is not long enough to accommodate jets.
  8. The Seward Airport is important to this community and economic development opportunities. Can’t this project better support the economic development goals of the City of Seward, which considers jet service an economic driver? Please consider economic impacts when evaluating alternatives.
    The majority of this project’s funding (93.75%) will come from the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP). AIP funding can only be used for improvements to support current and forecasted airport needs. FAA can’t spend money on a “if we build it, they will come” approach. FAA is required to evaluate if a proposed project involves a longer or wider runway than needed or than data support. Facility requirements are set by FAA, and the threshold of 500 operations of the airport’s most demanding aircraft (or family of aircraft) must be met in determining the size of the facility. Annual operations for all aircraft combined at the Seward Airport (10,700 in 2013) is low when compared to other similar airports (Kenai: 38,950; Homer: 48,085; Dillingham: 50, 823). Even if operations at Seward Airport doubled or tripled, a 3,300-foot runway would still be sufficient. The Seward Airport Improvements project can acknowledge the community’s desire for a longer runway by ensuring that this current project does not preclude future expansion when demand increases.

    Economic impacts were considered during the Project Scoping phase when alternatives for the airport were evaluated (see the alternative analysis available on the project website). These impacts, as well as other impacts, will be considered in further depth during development of the Environmental document, as part of the Environmental phase of the project.
  9. Have you considered the Coast Guard’s C-130 operations in the traffic counts? Can Seward have a longer runway to support Coast Guard operations?
    Use of the airport by the Coast Guard was documented. They use the airport to practice touch and go’s with their C-130 aircraft. According to FAA, they will not fund public airport improvements to support military aircraft. Therefore their use could not be included in the traffic counts used to evaluate the operations requirement. However, even if their operations were included, the numbers would still fall far short of justifying a longer runway.
  10. Aren’t two runways needed so that pilots have options in varying wind conditions?
    Orienting the runway to maximize the prevailing wind direction is a key aspect of airport planning. FAA strives to provide facilities that have 95% wind coverage, meaning the orientation of the runway is aligned with the prevailing winds 95% of the time. If more than 5% of the time the winds are not aligned with the runway, FAA recommends a second (crosswind) runway. A comparison of wind coverage across the alternatives for design group II aircraft is as follows: Alternative 1.1, with two runways, provides 99.64% wind coverage. The single runway featured in Alternatives 2.2 and 3.0 provides 99.53% wind coverage; exceeding the FAA threshold of 95% wind coverage. Also, some pilots supported improving the secondary runway (Alternative 2.2) over reconstructing the main runway (Alternative 1.1) due to the better wind coverage.
  11. Alternatives 2 and 3 would block access to floatplanes that access the water by backing down the road at the end of the airport to the tidal flats. What can be done about that?
    If Alternative 2 or 3 moves forward into the next phase, the design team will consider solutions to this access problem. Any proposed solution would require FAA approval in order to qualify for federal construction funding.
  12. Will the project alternatives include a fence? Commenters valued being able to cross airport property to access the mudflats and airport hangars.
    The Seward Airport is a state-owned airport and DOT&PF is responsible for ensuring safe airport operating conditions. Airport fencing is a typical component used to ensure safety, but fencing has not yet been considered for this project. Once DOT&PF and FAA determine the alternative or alternatives to advance to the next stage, more detailed airport design and engineering work, including related to airport safety will occur. The DOT&PF understands that this is an important topic, and future phases will invite comment on this design element.
  13. Is doing nothing an option?
    Doing nothing is the no-build alternative, and this is an option under consideration. With this alternative though, the existing airport would continue to experience recurrent flood damage. Also the DOT&PF maintenance and operations staff and budget would continue to be challenged with the cost and effort to keep the airport open, a serious concern with on-going state budget cuts. Finally, this option does not address the desire for weight restrictions to be removed; under a no-build alternative, the weight restrictions would remain.
  14. When and how will natural resource impacts from Alternatives 2.2 and 3.0 on the wetlands/tidal flats/estuary area be considered?
    Alternatives 2.2 and 3.0 would require fill to be placed in tidal flats and estuary, an area that provides habitat for salmon and migratory birds (including Arctic Terns and waterfowl). Impacts to these and other natural resources will be considered in the Environmental phase of the project. As part of the Environmental Document process, the project team is required to consult with state and federal resource agencies that have jurisdiction over each natural resource.
  15. Will the project consider impending sea-level rise and storm erosion related to Alternatives 2.2 and 3.0, since these alternatives move the airport closer to the ocean?
    A Hydraulic and Hydrology (H&H) analysis has been completed. As part of the Environmental Document process, the project team will consult with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who has jurisdiction over the flood zone, to determine if any additional flood study analysis is required.
  16. Isn’t the use of the jetty/mudflats for Alternatives 2.2 and 3.0 an incompatible use because the area is already used by birds, and the Alaska Railroad Corporation has plans for a marine terminal expansion project that would add tall cranes and other potential protrusions to airspace?
    Land use impacts and compatibility will be considered for each alternative that advances to the next phase (the Environmental Document phase). During this phase agencies will be notified of project alternatives, advanced from the Scoping phase, and given an opportunity to comment on them. The DOT&PF has established the project’s stakeholder working group, of which the Alaska Railroad Corporation is a member, to ensure that there is good communication and coordination on these important infrastructure projects.
  17. When will costs beyond construction costs (such as socioeconomic, environmental, property acquisition, and so on) be determined and be part of the evaluation process? Also, the project should consider the cumulative impact cost of closing an existing facility (Runway 13/31) versus rehabilitating it or converting it to some other use.
    Preliminary costs/impacts associated with these factors and others were considered during the Scoping phase of the project. Refer to the Alternative Analysis available on the project website. As project development moves forward, the design becomes more refined. Costs are continually updated and impacts are evaluated in more depth.
  18. What was the range of opinions received on the project?
    We heard a broad range of opinions on the project. Many felt that an airport with a long (4,000-foot) runway is important to the community. Many noted frustration at the airport’s current weight restrictions. Others noted that if Alternative 3.0 (the long 4,000-foot runway) is not possible as part of this project now, the project should carry a 4,000-foot runway forward as part of the planning process to ensure that it can occur in the future. Others noted that Seward is a small community that doesn’t need a big airport. These people expressed a need for the environment to be preserved over the airport, noting concern over projects that promote more of Seward’s industrial feel at the expense of wildlife/nature/the environment. Still others supported expanding the small runway over reconstructing the main runway.