Even though Seward has a small airport that is only accessible by small aviation flights, with a longer and a shorter runway, and no airport terminal, state-mandated restrictions on its use can, and does impact the town. The recent flooding of Resurrection River onto the runway has occurred from time to time over the past few years. But only this summer, when it happened in June, was the Alaska Department of Transportation notified, and when it happened the state determined the runway to be unsafe for fixed-wing aircraft of 12,500 pounds or more. That’s more or less what the life-flight planes weigh that transport injured patients to a hospital in Anchorage or Soldotna.
Recently, DOT officials actually prevented one such fixed-wing aircraft from landing on the short runway, which was not impacted by the river’s floodwater, according to Ron Long, the Assistant Seward City Manager. In its place, a large, costly USAF Pave Hawk helicopter arrived to assist, probably at considerably greater cost to the injured party. The state agency also prevented a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter from landing at the Seward airport for repairs, which was an inconvenience to the coast guard, which was planning to fly in the needed spare parts from Cordova. The decision also has impacted some private jets that use the airport, Long said, and it has reportedly meant a slump in business for the town’s aircraft fuel supplier.
The city wouldn’t mind if DOT officials were actually talking with city officials, and explaining the new policy restricting all smaller fixed-wing aircraft, and discussing how they plan to resolve the issue. But they have not called, nor answered repeated calls from city officials hoping to get their concerns cleared up. In previous years, once the floodwater recedes, the air strip is reopened, Long said. Nor does the city know what plans DOT may have looked at to help alleviate the flooding situation, such as dredging the river bed, or building a berm to prevent it from coming onto the runway.
Both Long, and City Manager Jim Hunt have appeared on statewide television in recent days to express their concerns about the situation. Calls from Seward City News to DOT were not returned today.
SCN reporter Heidi Zemach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org