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Upgrading an active runway at Unalaska airport takes communication

Jim PaulinDutch Harbor Fisherman

How do you coordinate a tall crane crawling the length of the runway with aircraft flying in for a landing?

With a pickup truck, said Greg Kelley, project manager for Knik Construction, which is doing two big construction jobs in Unalaska this summer, at the airport and the adjacent Ballyoo Road.

The safety solution is "Knik One," a pickup truck sitting on the runway, where a company employee keeps in radio contact with the terminal and aircraft.

"We can't take anything out here unless we clear it with Knik One," said Kelley, during a recent tour of the work on Amaknak Island adjacent to Dutch Harbor within the city limits of Unalaska.

Peninsula Airways station manager Lowell Crezee said aviation and construction are comfortably co-existing. "For the most part, pretty smooth," Crezee said. While Pen Air has radio contact if necessary with Knik's pickup, the airline leaves communications mainly to Alaska Weather Observation Service, a contracted weather service at the airport.

"We can if we have to, but the weather station's been on top of it all the time," Crezee said.

What's that crane doing there anyway? Keeping the airport from washing away where it sticks out into the bay, by placing 14-ton interlocking concrete devices into the water, to prevent erosion.

Runway lighting is getting an upgrade too, by subcontractor Swanson Electric, with ditches dug along the landing strip for the new wiring. The drainage system is also getting overhauled.

Runway repaving may or may not be done this year, said Kelley, noting that the contract gives Knik until next year to finish the airport project. A weather problem up north may push runway repaving into next year, since ice conditions in Kotzebue delayed the asphalt plant's departure on a barge to Nome where it got another barge to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor.

In the other project of greater local impact, things are moving along on the Ballyhoo Road job, though the biggest part is yet to come, when paving starts and the workforce will swell from about 15 now to 35 or more, Kelley said.

"We'll keep people moving as fast as we can," said Kelley, to minimize the inconvenience to the driving public.

Ballyhoo Road isn't the only place that will get pavement where there is none now. Three driveways will shoot off Ballyhoo into the Unalaska Marine Center, so container-carrying semis won't have to drive through mud in the typically wet conditions, and create dust clouds in the less frequent but not entirely uncommon dry weather.

Kelley said Knik will make a special effort to keep truck traffic moving when container ships are loading and offloading at the city dock.

While much the traffic along Ballyhoo is of the heavy industrial nature, the project also includes an eight-foot wide pedestrian and bike trail between the airport and the Unalaska Marine Center, including the city dock and the Coast Guard dock. The paved trail will run along the water side of the road. The pedestrian trail will be shorter than the length of the new road paving, which continues down to the Kloosterboer cold storage plant, just before the road takes a sharp turn onto the Dutch Harbor Spit.

The preceding report was first published by The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is republished here with permission. Jim Paulin can be reached at paulinjim(at)yahoo.com