Quake-damaged Northway, Alaska, runway will finally be replaced

August 24, 2004

Quake-damaged Northway, Alaska, runway will finally be replaced

Northway (ORT), Alaska's runway will finally be rebuilt, after nearly two years of finger pointing between two federal agencies. A 7.9-magnitude earthquake destroyed the 5,000-foot runway in November 2002. It was replaced with a temporary 3,300-foot gravel runway, but it took the intervention of Alaska's junior senator, Lisa Murkowski, to get the money to rebuild the permanent runway.

"AOPA worked with the Alaska Department of Transportation, and state officials agreed to restore Northway to a paved, 5,000-foot runway, but they got batted back and forth between FAA and FEMA about funding," said Tom George, AOPA Alaska regional representative. "Our thanks to Sen. Murkowski and her staff for finally breaking loose the funds."

"Northway is the major point of entry for light aircraft travel to and from Alaska," said George. "The combination of customs, aviation fuel, weather reporting, a seasonal flight service station, and instrument approaches makes Northway a critical element in the chain of airports connecting Alaska with the lower 48."

Sen. Murkowski announced last week that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had reversed its previous position and agreed to pay 75 percent of the roughly $13.7 million it will take to return both Northway and Gulkana airports to their pre-earthquake conditions.

Following the earthquake, President Bush issued a federal disaster declaration that made relief funds available to the state through FEMA. The agency paid for temporary repairs to the airports but refused to pay for permanent work. FEMA said that the FAA was responsible for permanent repair.

The FAA, in turn, said Alaska could redirect some of its annual airport improvement grants for repairs, but the agency wasn't charged by Congress to fix airports after natural disasters. "FEMA, on the other hand, receives billions of dollars in appropriations from Congress to address the consequences of natural catastrophes speedily and with minimal red tape," said Murkowski. "It was simply wrong for FEMA to point the finger at another federal agency."

Murkowski, who serves on the Senate committee that oversees FEMA, filed a "friend of the court" brief on behalf of Alaska as it appealed FEMA's funding denial. FEMA accepted the second appeal and agreed to fund the major portion of the airport repairs.

August 24, 2004