Alaska's Arctic gears up for busy summer construction season

Jillian Rogers | The Arctic Sounder

Despite cool, wet weather across the Arctic, construction crews are getting set for a busy summer building season.

The Kotzebue Airport safety-area improvement project, which is being done to comply with updated Federal Aviation Administration requirements, is coming up on its fourth summer of work.

The runway currently does not have adequate safety areas, said Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities project engineer Mark Figley.

"The basic impetus behind this project is to expand the safety areas at each end of the runway so they meet the current requirements," Figley said.

The expansion will see the runway lengthened by about 400 feet on both ends, cutting into the hillside on the east side of the runway, and into Kotzebue Sound at the other end.

The public access road across the west end of the airport will also be moved in order to comply.

This final stage of the $11.3 million expansion is scheduled for completion by Nov. 30 of this year, Figley said.

Work over the past few years at the airport has caused some disruption to flight schedules, especially at night, though the impacts are relatively small.

"For some of the work this summer, we'll have nighttime closures and we'll have to close the runway for one day," Figley said, adding that a specific day has not been chosen.

Also in Northwest Alaska, a $15 million rehab and extension project of both runways at the Ambler Airport will begin when the weather allows.

Northern region projects on DOT's agenda include an estimated $3.6 million runway repair project in Barrow and a $6.3 million runway resurfacing project in Shishmaref.

In Kotzebue, the list of city projects is also ever-growing.

The city recently awarded the construction contract to KIC Construction for the initial phase of the city's youth center project -- a multi-phase, multi-use facility that will offer space for a variety of activities. Four companies bid on the project, said Kotzebue city manager Derek Martin, with KIC offering the lowest proposal.

Construction will likely begin in early June, with the first building finished by November.

"We're very, very happy and very fortunate that the community supported us on this project," said Martin.

The first phase will cost about $1.5 million and is being paid for by a bank loan that the community approved for the undertaking. It will include a new, 3,600-square-foot facility with a large open space and a couple of offices.

"Last summer, we asked the voters if we could borrow up to $5 million to provide recreational facilities because that's what the community had asked the city for, for many years."

In September, the city secured $3.5 million from Wells Fargo.

That chunk of cash helped pay for the continuing upgrades to Swan Lake and will pay for the first stage of the youth center. The city also just received word that it will get money from the state to help finish off Swan Lake with some floating docks and more lighting around the perimeter.

"Things are really starting to take shape," Martin said.

For several years now, the city's long-term goal has been the establishment of a deep-water port, Martin said. They are working with the Native Village of Kotzebue, KIC, NANA, the Northwest Arctic Borough and Maniilaq to continue pre-planning for the massive enterprise.

In the coming months, Martin is hoping that the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities will complete a design for the Cape Blossom Road -- the first step in the port project --with construction tentatively slated to begin over the next two years.

"That's always been a longtime priority of the city and the community," Martin said.

One more project that the city is working on this summer is an upgrade to North Tent City, a camp and subsistence ground maintained by the city where locals can put up fish and dress seal.

"We do recognize the importance of accommodating for the immediate needs and providing those at the same time."

This story first appeared in The Arctic Sounder and is republished here with permission.

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