Neighbors are pushing for changes to the project that would expand international cargo operations at Anchorage Airport
Nearby residents are growing increasingly anxious as a private developer pushes ahead with construction of a huge new facility that could expand cargo operations at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, already the world’s largest. fourth for freight.
North Link Aviation want to creating 15 wide-body parking and refueling bays, called hardstands, atop what is now mostly wooded land at the south end of the airport. Plans also include a 90,000 square foot warehouse where international freight carriers can store and trade products, expanding delivery opportunities in the Lower 48 and elsewhere, said Sean Dolan, general manager of NorthLink. It will cost at least $125 million.
“Our project will create opportunities to significantly expand the airport’s cargo operations,” Dolan said.
But residents south of the project area, across Raspberry Road near Kincaid Park, are fighting to change plans.
Many homeowners use water wells, and they’re particularly concerned about contamination with “everlasting chemicals” known as PFAS, said Linda Swiss, who lives in the Tanaina Hills neighborhood.
The chemicals, linked to serious health issues including cancer, were found at other sites near the 120-acre property where the project would be built, Swiss said. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has also raised concerns about nearby chemicals and is taking steps to better understand groundwater flow in the area.
Residents, no strangers to the roar of planes flying overhead, are also worried about more noise – as well as potential fuel spills, air pollution and lights, said Swiss.
“It will definitely affect the quality of our life,” Swiss said. “People say, ‘You knew you were near an airport,’ but we never thought of developing that side of the airport.”
Company says it could mitigate impacts
Dolan said the company met several times with residents, who formed a subcommittee under the Sand Lake Community Council to influence the project.
NorthLink holds a 55-year lease for the airport land which was signed last year. Money because the project falls under the Alaska Investment Program, which is part of the $79 billion Alaska Permanent Fund. Dolan declined to say how much.
Dolan said NorthLink will operate in an environmentally responsible manner.
“My goal is that I really want it to be as invisible as possible,” he said. “That’s one thing we can do to be a good long-term neighbor.”
The project will create a 700-foot treed protective setback north of Raspberry Road that residents are looking for, he said. NorthLink plans to build Alaska’s first system to capture and reuse aircraft de-icing fluid. Several mechanisms will be in place to prevent any spilled fuel from leaving the site, he said.
A 25-foot-tall earth berm, topped with tall vegetation, will be built to reduce noise from the operation, he said. The lighting will be carefully positioned. A blast fence will redirect engine exhaust gases.
The neighborhood has also asked NorthLink to help pay to expand the city’s water service. The company plans to provide funding for this idea, Dolan said.
“We try to be respectful of the impact on the community and we try to address their concerns as much as possible,” he said.
Peter Heninger, a retired resident of the Tanaina Hills area, said he was also concerned about water pollution from his well. He said the potential PFAS contamination, as well as other aspects such as the economic rationale for the project, need to be better investigated.
“If it’s going to happen, they should put the time and resources into it to do it right, and not rush it,” he said.
Matt Sanders, who lives in the area, said he believed strong winds would carry de-icing fluid into Kincaid Park and Little Campbell Lake, a recreation area where a conservation group reported detect PFAS. Noise pollution is another concern.
“This is the wrong place,” Sanders said of the project.
Dolan said the project has signed a lease with the airport, after a public comment period, and cannot be relocated. He said de-icing fluid wouldn’t reach the berm even on the windiest days, let alone the wooded setback area.
State environmental regulators are concerned
Local residents are not the only ones watching the project.
As part of the permitting process, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has raised concerns in a letter to the proponent regarding groundwater flow and nearby contaminated sites.
The agency does not have enough information to understand the project’s potential impacts on groundwater, the letter said.
The DEC is launching a “robust” study to find out more, in part to make sure the water wells will be safe, said Bill O’Connell, a Environmental Program Manager for the State Contaminated Sites Program.
This study could begin in September and hopefully be completed soon after, he said.
“Our site characterization should inform this situation for the benefit of all,” O’Connell said.
The agency is particularly concerned about PFAS contamination in a former fire training area just west of the project site where fire-fighting foam, which often contains PFAS compounds, had been used, O’Connell said.
In addition, PFAS levels “above regulatory standards” have been detected in the ground at Kulis Air National Guard Base to the east, where a planned taxiway extension would connect to the NorthLink project, the letter said.
That area is half a mile from the project site, Dolan, with NorthLink, said. The state will take care of this taxiway extension, which will provide access for planes reaching the NorthLink site, he said.
Craig Campbell, the airport’s acting manager, said the airport wanted to make sure no residential wells were polluted.
He said the airport has hiring a contractor to work with residents and sample water from wells.
“We want to have a solid foundation of what’s in the pits now,” Campbell said. “The last thing we want to do is stir up PFAS and affect groundwater. If it looks like it’s happening, we’ll have to make a remediation study.”
Well sampling and the upcoming DEC study could help determine what work, if any, needs to be done to protect drinking water, Campbell said.
Demand for international cargo is expected to continue to grow at the airport, where all existing parking spots — parking and refueling spots — are sometimes busy, Campbell said.
Several cargo expansion projects are progressing at the airport, including by UPS and FedEx.
NorthLink is working on inking deals with other carriers, Dolan said.
Air cargo demand will continue to grow, he said.
“People want things that are reliable and fast,” Dolan said. “Whether it’s your iPhone, your yoga pants, or car parts, air freight is key to making it happen.”
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