Shifting permafrost threatens Alaska village’s new airport

BETHEL, Alaska (AP) — Tununak Airport near Bethel is facing a major problem, as airlines are refusing to land there due to the village’s shifting permafrost.

The airport had to shut down last week, KYUK-FM reported. Its runway is buckling due to changes in the area’s permafrost.

Ravn Alaska and Grant Aviation say the runway is too dangerous for pilots to land.

Tununak, like most Alaska communities, relies on air travel for many goods and services.

Gordon Tester, Tununak’s school principal, said community members started asking questions when they stopped seeing planes fly in.

“We were calling the airlines (and) asking when the next plane was coming in,” Tester said. “And they just said they’re not landing until further notice. Well, then you have to ask, ‘well what is further notice?'”

Shelves at village stores have been pretty much empty due to the lack of shipments, Tester said.

Community members have resorted to driving across the tundra with all-terrain vehicles to pick up groceries and mail in Toksook Bay.

Tribal Administrator James James said several elderly residents are concerned about receiving their medications, some of which need to be refilled by mail.

The airport opened about a year ago and cost $19 million.

Department of Transportation spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy said an expert grader operator is being sent to the airport with construction workers to assess the situation.

The department does not have a timetable yet for when Tununak’s runway will be fixed, McCarthy said.

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Information from: KYUK-AM, http://www.kyuk.org

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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