Neighbors push for changes to the project that would expand international cargo operations at the Anchorage airport

Nearby residents are growing anxious as a private developer pursues the construction of a huge new facility that could expand cargo operations at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, already the world’s fourth-busiest for cargo.

NorthLink Aviation wants to create 15 jumbo jet parking and fueling spots, called hardstands, on what is now mostly forested land on the south end of the airport. Plans also call for a 90,000-square-foot warehouse where international freight carriers can store and trade goods, expanding delivery opportunities to the Lower 48 and beyond, said Sean Dolan, chief executive officer of NorthLink. It will cost at least 125 million dollars.

“Our project will create opportunities to significantly grow the airport’s cargo operations,” Dolan said.

But people who live south of the project area, across Raspberry Road near Kincaid Park, are fighting to change the plans.

Many homeowners use well water and are especially concerned about contamination from “forever chemicals” known as PFAS, said Linda Swiss, who lives in the Tanaina Hills neighborhood.

The chemicals, linked to serious health problems including cancer, have been found at other sites near the 120-acre property where the project will 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, also worry about more noise, as well as potential fuel spills, air pollution and lights, Swiss said.

“It will definitely affect the quality of our life,” Swiss said. “People say, ‘You knew you were near an airport,’ but we never thought they would develop this side of the airport.”

The company says it could mitigate the impacts

Dolan said the company has met multiple times with residents, who have formed a subcommittee under the Sand Lake Community Council to influence the project.

NorthLink has a 55-year lease for the airport land that was signed last year. Some of the money for the project comes from the Alaska Investment Program, part of the $79 billion Alaska Permanent Fund. Dolan declined to say how much.

Dolan said NorthLink will operate in an environmentally safe manner.

“My goal is that I really want this to be as invisible as possible,” he said. “That’s something we can do to be a good neighbor for the long term.”

The project will create a 700-foot forested protective setback north of Raspberry Road, just as residents are seeking, he said. NorthLink plans to build Alaska’s first system to capture and reuse aircraft deicing fluid. Multiple mechanisms will be put in place to prevent spilled fuel from leaving the site, she said.

A 25-foot-high earthen berm, covered with tall vegetation, will be built to reduce noise from the operation, he said. Lighting will be carefully placed. A protective fence will redirect engine exhaust.

The neighborhood has also asked NorthLink to help pay for extended city water service. The company is exploring providing funding for that idea, Dolan said.

“We’re trying to be respectful of the impact on the community and we’re trying to address their concerns as much as possible,” he said.

Peter Heninger, a retired resident of the Tanaina Hills area, said he is also concerned about the contamination of his well water. He said that potential PFAS contamination, as well as other aspects such as the economic justification for the project, need further study.

“If this is going to happen, they should spend time and resources to get it right and not rush it,” he said.

Matt Sanders, who lives in the area, said he thinks high winds will blow deicing fluid into Kincaid Park and Little Campbell Lake, a recreational area where a conservation group has reported detecting PFAS. Noise pollution is one of his other concerns.

“It’s the wrong location,” Sanders said of the project.

Dolan said the project has signed a lease with the airport, following a public comment period, and cannot be relocated. He said the de-icing liquid won’t reach the berm even on the windiest of days, let alone the secluded wooded area.

State environmental regulators raise concerns

Nearby residents aren’t the only ones watching the project.

As part of the permitting process, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation raised concerns in a letter to the developer about groundwater flow and nearby contaminated sites.

The agency does not have enough information to understand the project’s potential impacts on groundwater, the letter says.

The DEC is launching a “robust” study to learn more, in part to ensure water wells are safe, said Bill O’Connell, a environmental program manager in the state’s contaminated sites program.

That study could start as early as September and hopefully be completed soon after, he said.

“Our site characterization should inform that situation for everyone’s benefit,” O’Connell said.

The agency is particularly concerned about PFAS contamination at a former fire training area just west of the project site where foam, which often contains PFAS compounds, had been used to extinguish fires, O’Connell said.

In addition, levels of PFAS “above regulatory standards” have been detected in the soil at Kulis Air National Guard Base to the east, where a planned taxiway extension would connect to the NorthLink project, the agency says. letter.

That area is about a half-mile from the project site, NorthLink’s Dolan said. The state will manage that extension of the taxiway, which will provide access for planes arriving at the NorthLink site, he said.

Craig Campbell, the airport’s acting manager, said the airport wants to make sure residential wells aren’t contaminated.

He said the airport has hired a contractor to work with residents and take water samples from the wells.

“We want to have a solid baseline of what’s in the wells now,” Campbell said. “The last thing we want to do is remove PFAS and affect groundwater. If that looks like it will happen, we would have to do a remedial study.”

Well sampling and the upcoming DEC study could help determine what work, if any, might need to be done to protect drinking water, Campbell said.

International cargo demand is expected to continue to grow at the airport, where all existing platforms — the parking and refueling spots — are sometimes busy, Campbell said.

Multiple cargo expansion projects are moving forward at the airport, including those from UPS and FedEx.

National Air Cargo is also expanding its operations in Alaska, Campbell said. The company has signed an agreement with NorthLink Aviation to use its rigid mounts.

NorthLink is working on signing deals with other carriers, Dolan said.

Air cargo demand will continue to grow, he said.

“People want things reliably and quickly,” Dolan said. “Whether it’s your iPhone, your yoga pants, or your car parts, air freight is critical to getting there.”

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