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Compass: North-South runway unnecessary blow to Coastal Trail

As Yogi Berra once famously declared, "It's déjà vu all over again." For the second time in less than a year -- and the third time since 2008 -- local residents are being asked to support Anchorage's beloved Coastal Trail, which again faces the specter of airport expansion.

As in 2008 and 2012, we residents need to make it clear (as if we hadn't already done so) that we won't sacrifice a portion of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail or surrounding wooded parkland so that the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport might someday build a second -- and unnecessary -- north-south runway a few thousand feet west of the existing one.

Nothing has changed: Such a runway would destroy a three-quarter-mile section of the Coastal Trail along with the adjoining 191-acre Point Woronzof Park, a mostly forested area west of the airport, between the city's wastewater treatment plant and Kincaid Park. It would also require a huge amount of fill, some of it dumped onto Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge lands and waters, to build the runway.

While last year's threat stemmed from recommended actions in the city's new West Anchorage District Plan, this time, as in 2008, the danger is posed by the airport's updated master plan, which includes five "draft development alternatives." Though both Alternatives 4 and 5 propose a second N-S runway, No. 5 is especially worrisome because of the damage it would do to the Coastal Trail and surrounding forested lands.

Recognizing its importance to the community, airport officials say they would somehow reroute the Coastal Trail if a new airstrip were built, either by wrapping it around the runway, likely on mounds of riprap and against a chain link fence, or by tunneling beneath it. Either way, it would become part of the expanded airport complex and the surrounding forest that makes this section of trail such a delight -- and provides a substantial buffer to the airport's industrialized landscape and activities, and especially its noise -- would be destroyed.

Some might say, what's the worry? These are only draft alternatives. But two people rallying opposition to Alternative 5 respond that any proposal for an unnecessary runway must be stopped right from the get-go. Leading the charge are Turnagain Community Council President Cathy Gleason and the Alaska Center for the Environment's Nick Moe. Both urge residents to attend the airport's May 23 open house/public meeting (5:30 p.m. at the Coast International Inn, 3450 Aviation Ave.) and voice their concerns.

Gleason has been fighting this battle for longer than she cares to remember. A Turnagain resident for three decades, the longtime Coastal Trail advocate says, "I feel like Bill Murray in 'Groundhog Day,' dealing with this same thing over and over."

Asked why airport officials have resurrected the N-S runway proposal after public outcry in 2008 prompted them to shelve that plan, Gleason replies, "Good question."

She notes that the airport's projected annual cargo-tonnage growth has fallen by half since 2008 and calls even that overly optimistic: "Cargo is down approximately 25 percent from its peak and less than it was a year ago. Even if 1.4 percent annual growth suddenly started, it would take about 10 years just to reach peak 2006-2007 cargo operations. The global economy is still fairly shaky. Newer planes are more fuel efficient and can fly from Asia to the Lower 48 without needing to refuel in Anchorage."

In short, there's no clear need for any new runway.

The process seems to be on a fast track; a final preferred alternative is due by late fall. "That's why," Gleason argues, "it's so critical for the public to send a loud and clear message right away that we don't need another N-S runway and especially don't support Alternative 5."

Besides the May 23 open house, the public can comment online, at contact@ancmasterplan.com or www.ancmasterplan.com/comment. Those with questions can contact Moe at nick@akcenter.org or 947-8777, or Gleason at tccpresident@yahoo.com.

We who value trails and parks need to make ourselves heard once more: Nothing has changed; we're still opposed to any airport plan that threatens the Coastal Trail and Point Woronzof Park.

Anchorage nature writer and Alaska Voices blogger Bill Sherwonit is the author of more than a dozen books, including "Living with Wildness: An Alaskan Odyssey."



By BILL SHERWONIT