Connecting Alaskan Communities: Nanwalek-Port Graham Airport Relocation

July 10, 2018

Project Overview Map showing the new airport location and configuration.

Located near the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula, the villages of Nanwalek and Port Graham are mainly accessed by aircraft. Currently, the two Alaska Native villages have separate airports, both of which have several safety issues and do not meet FAA standards. This includes the existing runways not being adequate to accommodate the range of aircraft that currently use, or are anticipated to use, the runways. The short runway length restricts landing and takeoff, presenting additional safety issues.

In particular, several plane crashes have occurred in Nanwalek due to challenging conditions caused by the terrain surrounding the current airport. The airstrip sits at sea level, bordered by the waters of Cook Inlet and by upsloping mountainous terrain to the north, east and south. Flights in the area routinely encounter substantial downdrafts when strong, east-southeast winds are present, and when approaching the runway, require a significant correction for a left crosswind. Being at sea level, the airstrip also can wash out from storms. Also, the proximity of the airport to residential areas limits community development. The Port Graham Airport shares similar problems. The airport sits surrounded by housing, restricting future airport expansion at this site. Nearby trees obstruct the airspace, presenting additional safety concerns.

To address safety issues and improve access, the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF) is developing a new, shared Nanwalek/Port Graham Airport that will better serve local passenger, mail, freight and medevac needs. This includes a new access road traversing the mountainous terrain between the two communities to serve as a link between the airport and each community, and a longer runway and new runway lighting system.

R&M Project Manager Evan Griffith, PE discussing the project with community members at the Port Graham Community meeting.

R&M is providing survey; environmental; hydrology; and geotechnical, civil and electrical engineering services on this project, working for DOT&PF to design the proposed airport and access road.

The project kicked off in January 2018 and the first open houses were held this past March, soliciting community input. Nanwalek and Port Graham residents are the primary users of the airport and have the local knowledge necessary for the successful completion of this project. Engaging with them and other stakeholders consistently will result in wide acceptance of the airport relocation design. These public meetings, one in Nanwalek and one in Port Graham the following day, primarily focused on native allotment holdings and native corporation roles and relationships, as well as introducing the project team, and curating relationships between DOT&PF, the consultant team, tribal entities, area residents, and other key stakeholders of the Nanwalek and Port Graham communities. At the core of these first meetings was the collection of local knowledge through hearing and addressing concerns shared by local stakeholders. This will remain the focus of every meeting throughout the project, ensuring the identified stakeholders are involved, invested and informed through each step of the process.

R&M team members Evan Griffith, PE, Marc Frutiger, PE, PTOE and Van Le, AICP with DOT&PF Project Manager Morgan Merritt in Nanwalek.

R&M is in the process of obtaining Revocable Use Permits to access Native allotments and acquisition of Native allotment, corporation and private land for the new airport site. Field work and design work will begin spring 2019 and construction is anticipated for summer 2022.

A new, shared Nanwalek and Port Graham airport will improve air service and enhance safety for these communities, as well as allow for future community development and expansion. Along with the planned access road, the proposed airport will link Nanwalek and Port Graham to each other, providing needed access to critical goods and services.

More information and project updates can be found on the project Facebook page.

R&M Staff Involved
Evan Griffith, PE; Van Le, AICP; Marc Frutiger, PE, PTOE; Matt Majoros, PE; Robert Colles, EIT, Michael Hansmeyer, EIT, CESCL; Joe Horazdovsky, EIT; Kristi McLean, LEED AP BD+C, CESCL; Bill Preston, PLS, GISP; Karen Tilton, PLS, SR/WA; Charlie Parr SR/WA; Luke Boggess, GISP; Taryn Oleson; Emily Bentti, CESCL; Katie Chan; Christine White, CPSM.

Project Team
Owner: Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities
Civil Design Engineer: R&M Consultants, Inc.
Land Acquisition Management: Electric Power Systems, Inc.
Electrical Engineer: MBA Consulting, Engineers, Inc.
Land Appraisal: Black-Smith Bethard & Carlson, LLC
Photogrammetry: Kodiak Mapping, Inc.
Biological Assessments: ABR, Inc.