Aniak Airport Construction Raises Fears Of Flooding In Spring

Aniak's airport construction raises fears that it could compromise a road project.
Credit Krysti Shallenberger / KYUK

The village of Aniak’s runway construction could cause more headaches for the community during spring breakup. Aniak’s city manager Kevin Toothacker says that the state’s plans to modify a road that runs next to the runway could compromise it.

Aniak’s runway sits right next to the Kuskokwim River. That means that the runway is in danger of flooding when ice jams build up during breakup, according to  Toothacker. He says that the community found a workaround; they put in a culvert to direct the floodwaters around the runway.

"So as it flooded up, they can go back into the sloughs and around the airport and back into the other areas there," Toothacker said. 

Aniak is in the middle of a big, expensive runway project to meet Federal Aviation Administration requirements. That project will shift the runway a couple hundred feet and shorten it. The state is also realigning a road that runs next to the runway while replacing part of an old culvert. The problem, Toothacker says, is that they are adding a gate to it. With the grade of the road, this means that the water could crest over it. In fact, Toothacker fears that the new road might not even exist once breakup has done its business.

"They say we’re 20 years away from it being eroded, but anyone who lives here knows we’re one bad breakup away and stuff could get compromised," Toothacker said. 

The Alaska Department of Transportation is the state agency overseeing the project. Shannon McCarthy, a DOT spokeswoman, says that they listened to the community’s complaints.

"Because it’s considered an airport relocation we had to do a full-blown EA [environmental assessment], so we had to demonstrate that we would not impact the 100-year flood," McCarthy said. 

McCarthy says that for that EA, or environmental assessment, there were community meetings where these concerns were brought up.

"When we do an environmental assessment we have to take all those things into account, and we have to take a look at we know where the water is drained to how to make sure that it doesn’t do anything that we do doesn’t impact it both after construction and during construction," McCarthy said. 

She says that new culvert is actually bigger than the old one and the gate should prevent such a wash-out, but Aniak’s Toothacker remains skeptical.

"But you know, these guys got degrees and everything in there," Toothacker said. "They’re much smarter than we are. I mean, so we’re just going have practicality overwin the whole thing. They’ll listen to us after breakup, I promise."

McCarthy also had a response to complaints that Aniak residents have about a new airport beacon shining into homes during the night. She says the DOT plans to speak with Knik Construction about changing the beam’s angle.