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Building Western Alaska

by Mar 22, 2019Construction, Education, Magazine, Transportation

DOT&PF and Department of Education projects dominate regional construction activity

Stantec’s aviation team is working with DOT&PF to install security fencing at the Nome Airport, in part to keep muskox off the runway.


In the Alaska Construction Spending Forecast 2019, Scott Goldsmith forecasts that there will be increased public project transportation spending in 2019 statewide, including $682 million on highways and roads and $424 million on airports, ports, and harbors. 

This is a 6 percent and 3 percent increase over 2018, respectively. Combined transportation projects are estimated to total nearly $1 billion, which is approximately half of projected public construction project spending (excluding national defense) across the state.

DOT&PF Projects

Several Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities projects are taking place in Western Alaska.

In Aniak, the $38 million Aniak Airport Runway Shift project “will shift the entire 6,000-foot-long runway 260 feet laterally to comply with Federal Aviation Administration safety requirements,” according to engineering and design firm Stantec, which designed the project. Construction began in 2018, continues this year, and has an anticipated completion date of 2020. To “shift” the runway, the scope of work includes a new runway and runway safety area, new taxiways, apron reconstruction, relocation of 1,900 feet of road, removal of obstacles and obstructions (including several buildings), drainage improvements, utility relocation, security fencing, contaminated soil remediation, and relocation of FAA NAVAIDS. “The runway-shift will ‘right-size’ the runway for the current fleet mix at the airport, which includes mostly Dash-8s, Beech 1900s, Saab 2000s, and Cessna Caravans,” according to Stantec.

At the Dillingham airport, the Dillingham Airport Gate Improvements project is slated for completion by the end of September. This project, for which Stantec is providing design services, has a scope of work that includes new fencing, gates, access controls, roadway embankment, asphalt paving, signs, and markings to upgrade the fence gates and provide access control to Dillingham Airport. The contractor for the $2.2 million project is JJC Enterprises.

Also slated for completion this year is the $1.9 million Nome Airport Fence Installation. Knik Construction Company has been selected as the contractor and Stantec provided design services for this project to install perimeter fencing and construct new access and service roads at the airport. According to Stantec, “The project includes new chain link fencing, as well as buck and rail fence, intended to prohibit trespass by the local muskox herd. Currently, airport personnel use airport fire trucks to chase the muskox off the runway. The new fence should cause the animals to seek areas off airport property with easier access for grazing.”

Stantec is also working on the South Naknek Runway Resurfacing project; DOT&PF’s in-house design time is providing design services for the project that includes resurfacing of the existing main runway, crosswind runway, taxiways, and apron. In support of the DOT&PF team, Stantec is providing electrical design for the airport’s new lighting system. It’s anticipated this $5 million to $10 million project will go out to bid for construction this spring.

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Also included in DOT&PF’s 2019 funding program in Western Alaska, among other projects, are:

Kotlik Airport Rehabilitation—Estimated at a cost between $5 million and $10 million, the scope of work includes removing existing obstructions, upgrading the airport lighting, replacing the segmented circle, and rehabilitating and applying dust palliative to the existing runway, taxiway, and apron area.

Kiana Airport Improvements—Now in its second year of construction, this project includes reconstructing the runway; expanding the apron and taxiway; removing and replacing a lighted wind cone; removing and replacing a PAPI pad, as well as installing a new PAPI and runway end identifier lights; resurfacing the apron and airport access road; removing and relocating the segmented circle; and constructing a material access road.

Holy Cross Airport Rehab and Lighting—The scope of work at the Holy Cross Airport includes installing and upgrading airport NAVAIDS, incorporating the existing electrical lighting equipment into the snow removal equipment building; removing and replacing existing runway and taxiway lighting; and installing 9 inches of crush aggregate surface course with dust palliative on the runway, taxiway, and apron.

Selawik Footbridge Rehabilitation—This $1 million to $2.5 million project rehabilitating East Fork Selawik Footbridge #1292 and West Fork Selawik Footbridge #1401 includes replacing surface boards, repairing and improving bridge landings, repairing a chain link fence and steel cross bracing, approach foundation repair, and relocating electrical utilities.

“The payrolls and profits from this construction activity support businesses in every community in the state. As this income is spent and circulates through local economies, it generates jobs in businesses as diverse as restaurants, dentist’s offices, and furniture stores.”

—Scott Goldsmith, Professor Emeritus of Economics, ISER

Port of Nome

In good news for the Western and Arctic regions of Alaska, progress continues on the deep-draft port at Nome. “The forward movement started in February 2018 when the City of Nome signed a cost-share agreement with the US Army Corps of Engineers to complete the feasibility study phase, which is now a two-year study, so we are about halfway through,” states Joy Baker, port director for the City of Nome.

An initial study into a deep-draft port at Nome was paused in 2015 and officially terminated in 2017; the 2015 pause was precipitated by the announcement by Royal Dutch Shell that it was pulling out of Alaska, ceasing its plans for offshore oil and gas exploration. “This brought into question the validity of the economic assumptions and overall justification of the federal project,” said Bruce Sexauer, chief of the Civil Works Branch of the US Army Corps of Engineers–Alaska District, in a February 2018 release.

“The forward movement [for the Nome deep-draft port] started in February 2018 when the City of Nome signed a cost-share agreement with the US Army Corps of Engineers to complete the feasibility study phase, which is now a two-year study, so we are about halfway through.”

—Joy Baker, Port Director, City of Nome

However, as City of Nome and other officials continued to engage with the Corps, it became clear that a deep-draft port in Nome may still be justifiable considering both anticipated increases in traffic as Arctic waters continue to open up and Nome’s role as a hub for the region. The same Corps release states, “The new investigation will examine a wider array of benefits than the previous study, including Nome’s role as a regional hub for surrounding communities that rely on fuel and goods.”

Baker explains that while the City of Nome is an equal partner in the cost-share agreement, the study is “managed and controlled” by the Corps, which has established the timeline for the study and the milestones within it. The estimated cost of the study is approximately $3 million, with about $1 million spent in 2018 and roughly $2 million in costs anticipated for 2019. The City of Nome has already secured the approximately $1.5 million needed for its portion of the cost of the study.

As of press, Baker anticipated there would be a Tentatively Selected Plan by the end of February, “which would be followed by a focused analysis and evaluation of that alternative.” If the project moves ahead as tentatively planned, construction would begin in 2023. “We are making progress and moving ahead,” Baker says.

Education Construction

In Alaska’s Construction Spending Forecast 2019, Goldsmith projects state education spending will be $248 million and “comes mostly from state government, and it will be marginally higher this year due to an increase in direct state funding for rural and urban schools.”

Goldsmith says the largest projects include new schools under construction at Tuntutuliak and Atmautluak and renovation to schools located in Shishmaref and Aniak, which are all in Western Alaska.

The Nightmute K-12 School Renovation and Addition project in the Lower Kuskokwim school district has entered Phase II, which is scheduled for completion this summer. Stantec provided design services for the project that “added 26,825 square feet of new program space to the salvaged 3,330-square-foot portion of the existing school,” according to Stantec. UIC Construction is the contractor for this project that was divided into two phases.

Phase I was comprised of a new gym, kitchen, commons area, classrooms, administrative offices, and a water/wastewater treatment plant. “Phase II will focus on renovating the existing school and creating a new art/science classroom, career tech lab, and simulation lab,” Stantec explains of the $30.8 million project.

Looking forward, the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development has released the FY2020 Capital Project Priority Lists; the School Construction list ranks eleven priorities, of which more than half are located in Western Alaska, including the Eek K-12 School Renovation/Addition (ranked first); Anna Tobeluk Memorial K-12 School Renovation/Addition (ranked third); and the Mertarvik K-12 School Construction Newtok Replacement (ranked sixth).

Construction activities promote a healthy economy in any location, but are particularly important in rural locations that often don’t have a plethora of economic opportunities, which characterizes the majority of Western Alaska. As Goldsmith states, “The payrolls and profits from this construction activity support businesses in every community in the state. As this income is spent and circulates through local economies, it generates jobs in businesses as diverse as restaurants, dentist’s offices, and furniture stores.”

Exterior of the new Nightmute K-12 School, which includes a nearly 27,000-square-foot addition and was designed by the multi-discipline team at Stantec.


Commons area at the new Nightmute K-12 School.


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Welcome to the June 2024 issue, which features our annual Transportation Special Section. We've paired it this year with a focus on the Pacific Northwest and Hawai'i, as Alaska has close ties to both that reach far beyond lines of transportation. Even further out past our Pacific Ocean compatriots and our Canadian neighbors to the east, Alaska's reach extends to India and Singapore. Enjoy this issue that explores many of Alaska's far-flung business dealings.
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