Sitka’s assembly took another step toward building a new seaplane base Tuesday, though the multi-million dollar facility is likely years away.
When the assembly met on Tuesday (8/27) it approved receipt of an $842,629 federal grant to pay for an environmental impact study towards the estimated $16 million project.
The existing seaplane base is over 50 years old and was most recently damaged by a storm and repaired in 2016.
The possibility of a new float plane dock is welcome news to seaplane operators like Kevin Mulligan. He owns a lodge in Port Alexander and runs Baranautica Air Service.
“I’ve gone through years of frustration, and anxiety. Feeling positive and thinking it’s going to happen and it’s not going to happen,” he said. “I’m very happy about this moving forward.”
He said a new float plane dock would be a boon to surrounding communities that don’t have airports and need access to Sitka.
Assembly member Richard Wein voiced support for a new seaplane base, but wished the grant would fund construction rather than a study.
“I can’t imagine what environmental impact would happen that is not already being impacted by what business we do here within the channel,” he said. “I’m for it, but it doesn’t make sense.”
Public Works director Michael Harmon said that the study would be necessary to satisfy federal funding requirements. The grant also includes funding for aviation planning services. The city expects 90 percent of the cost for the entire project to be picked up the Federal Aviation Administration.
“Their standards are built on international airports,” he said, “so the noise generated from a seaplane base or the impacts of a seaplane base are so minor in their standards, I envision it to be insignificant.”
Much of the study, he said, would look at potential impacts from constructing a new dock around tidelands. The city would likely have to set aside other wetlands as mitigation for the project. The entire process would likely take five years to be completed — but that’s the trade off if the city wants the feds to pay for it.
“It’s a lot of paperwork and a lot of reports to get through it, but at the end of the day we get 93.75 percent funding. So that’s the pros and cons of it,” Harmon said.
The Assembly moved to appropriate $56,176 as matching funds to accept the federal grant.
This comes about a week after Harris Air announced it was ceasing passenger and cargo service in September, leaving Baranof Island with one less airline.
Additional coverage of the August 27, 2019 assembly meeting can be found here.
Watch the full video of the August 27, 2019 assembly meeting here