Airport floods in heatwave
Leon Youngblood | The Seward Phoenix Log
Overflow from the Resurrection River makes inroads on the south end of the main runway at Seward Airport causing a closure this week. Recent record high temperatures caused rapid melting of Exit Glacier and remaining highland snow.
Fifteen years ago, private charter company NetJets was on the brink of adding Seward Airport to the list of facilities that it services. Flood debris on the runway at that time caused the company to cancel those plans. This spring a representative inspected the airport and NetJets was back on board with a couple of flights out of Seward scheduled for this week. However, because of rapid melting due to recent record high temperatures, the glacier fed Resurrection River has flooded the only runway that jets can safely use.
As of Tuesday the 4,240-foot 13L-31R runway is closed, according to Denny Hamilton who operates a fueling business at the airport. Seward Air, Hamilton’s business, is the only fixed-base operator at the facility providing services to aircraft flying in and out. Over the years he has tried to encourage improvements at the airport that would protect it from periodic flooding and help make it more attractive to more air traffic. He says that the State of Alaska has put quite a bit of work into the facility, but they haven’t changed much.
The State of Alaska owns the facilities, grounds and the public airport has been in operation at the site since its first construction during World War II. It was originally named Walseth Air Force Base and was closed by the United States Air Force in April 1947. It was transferred to the War Assets Administration and then taken over by the Territory of Alaska. The facility now under the jurisdiction of the Alaska Department of Transportation and is overseen locally by Mike Rule. Formal management along with remote air traffic control functions are based in Soldotna.
Hamilton says that one relatively simple and minor improvement would be re-establishing a gravel berm or levee to protect the runway adjacent Resurrection River. The river continues to erode its banks near the further end of the tarmac and some protection is an urgent matter, especially considering the possible loss of the use of the runway. At least it’s pretty obvious to Hamilton, whose fortunes wax and wane with available customers at the airport.
Tuesday morning, as Hamilton was performing aerial reconnaissance, movement caught his eye. The old military radio station building on the river bank opposite the runway slid into the Resurrection River as erosion took its toll on the landmark. The faded green concrete structure has been in jeopardy for several years as the rampaging river continues to transform the landscape at the head of Resurrection Bay.
In addition to the possible cancellation of both jet flights, on Monday LifeMed Alaska decided against flying a medical evacuation out of the Seward Airport. Although Hamilton has suggested reopening the runway with a Notice to Airmen, airport management has so far decided to keep it closed. The facility’s other runway is the 2,279-foot 16L-34R tarmac which is unobstructed. However, it is comparatively short and of marginal use for many larger aircraft.
The first customer-booked charter flight is scheduled on Wednesday at high tide, not particularly auspicious timing. Hamilton said he was expecting a jet flight in on Tuesday afternoon and the other that following morning. However, with the jet-capable runway flooded and closed it may be another 15 years before more jet charter traffic comes along.