The Arctic Sounder

Kivalina residents and DOT discuss evacuation road repars, airport relocation

Kivalina residents and transportation officials discussed last month relocating the Kivalina airport and repairing the evacuation road.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and the Northwest Arctic Borough officials traveled to the community at the end of the last month to discuss airport relocation with residents and to evaluate the condition of the Kivalina evacuation road, said Danielle Tessen, communication manager at the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities.

Evacuation road

Earlier this summer, Kivalina residents reported cracks on the sides of the recently built evacuation road which connects the village to the storm refuge site and the school. During their visit, the DOT and borough officials evaluated the road and what repairs were necessary.

Experts observed “some cracking and settlement of the roadway embankment” in isolated locations, approximately at miles 2.5, 5.7 and 6, heading east out of Kivalina, Tessen said.

“During the Aug. 31 site visit, the 7-mile roadway was primarily in good condition,” Tessen said. ”Most of the cracking appeared shallow and should be filled in by re-grading the existing surfacing material. Deeper cracks may need to be notched out and filled back in with surfacing material before re-grading.”

Tessen added that while settlement and cracking are now limited to isolated locations, the issues need to be monitored and addressed in a timely manner.

As of Monday, the borough officials, in charge of road maintenance, haven’t responded to questions about when they plan to repair the road.


Airport relocation

The August visit primarily focused on discussing the idea of relocating the airport, Tessen said.

Located on a barrier island, the Kivalina village and its airport are experiencing severe storms that can cause erosion and bring in high waves. Stormy weather and gusty winds can also carry debris to the runway and reduce visibility, which can all affect emergency operations such as medivac flights, according to the Kivalina Airport Relocation Feasibility Study description.

The rock revetment constructed in 2019 to protect the airport runway in its current location was to be in good condition in August, Tessen said. However, to improve the safety of aviation infrastructure, the Kivalina Airport Relocation Planning Project team is evaluating the risk to the current airport and the feasibility of relocating it onto the mainland, east of the current village, where it will be more protected.

During their visit, the team hosted the first public meeting in Kivalina to introduce the project to the residents and gather their feedback on potential paths forward, Tessen said. About 15 residents attended, Tessen said.

“The format of the meeting was open house style, where maps were laid out on three tables in the community center, and residents and staff gathered around for in-depth conversations and markups of the maps on topics like weather, airport alternatives, current airport deficiencies, topography and residents vision for their community,” Tessen said.

At the next public meeting with the community, the project team plans to introduce potential solutions and solicit community comments and feedback, Tessen said.

Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.