Gulls killed to clear Kenai runway

After 16 years of living 700 feet away from the Kenai Municipal Airport runway, Les and Susan Bradley have become accustomed to the sound of planes taking off.

But a different sound has the couple concerned – gunshots. Shotgun blasts early in the morning intended to keep seagulls off the runway has disturbed the Bradley’s sleep at their home on Float Plane Road.

The Bradley’s voiced their concern to Kenai City Council at Wednesday’s meeting and asked it to consider a quieter and more humane alternative.

“We’re not cranks; we are just squawking,” Les Bradley said. “Our concern is for the birds themselves and the noise is rather bothersome.”

Mary Bondurant, Kenai Municipal Airport manager, said the airport has seen heavy gull activity in June and didn’t really know why.

She said it’s possible the seagulls like to warm their feet on the pavement or the discovery of grasshoppers in the nearby grass has attracted them to the spot. She said airports statewide have had to deal with similar problems of birds on the runway.

Les Bradley, a retired pilot, said he understands the airport’s intention with what they refer to as “lethal enforcement,” that keep birds from getting sucked into the planes’ engines in the interest of safety.

He said the shooting has occurred for about a week and the airport has become a “warzone.”

On one occasion, Susan Bradley counted 40 shots fired at about 6 a.m.

“Birds are going to the dump in body bags,” Susan Bradley said. “Something must be done.”

Bondurant said airport personnel do not use lethal means unless they have to. In response to the instance the Bradley’s referred to Bondurant said the control tower dispatched Kenai Police to remove seagulls from the runway before an early morning departure because they respond after hours. Bondurant said the airport follows Federal Aviation Administration regulations and part of the policy is to make sure flight safety is the No. 1 priority.

“Aviation and wildlife do not mix,” she said. “We will keep an eye on the situation and look for alternatives, but the methods in place have been effective.”

In the past the city enlisted the help of a dog to chase birds off the runway but she said a mile and a half runway and numerous other taxiways is too much ground for one dog to cover. The airport has also used pyrotechnics to scare birds off but fireworks could cause a fire, she said.

“With how many gulls we’ve had they would take off in five or six different directions,” Bondurant said. “Gulls can be stubborn.”

Bondurant said the problem may resolve itself when dipnet season starts and all the seagulls flock to the beach to scavenge the fish waste. Les Bradley said the shotgun sounds have scared off neighborhood dogs. Part of the reason the noise is louder is because the trees in front of his house that served as a buffer between the airport light and noise were cut down to comply with FAA standards.

The police called the Bradley’s to warn them when they will be shooting. Les Bradley said he appreciates the compromises the city has taken and hopes it will find a better alternative. “We have a lot of seagulls that visit the Kenai flats,” he said. “The more they shoot down, more will take their place.”

 

Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com

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