Not OK to land

Property owner plans floatplane landing basin

Posted: Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Kenai pilot and property owner plans to build a floatplane basin on his land off Buoy Street near Kalifornsky Beach Road.

David Yragui insists that what he envisions would definitely not be a major airport, but the project has raised some concerns for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the impact to a lowlands caribou herd that feeds and calves in the area, and among neighbors regarding noise.

Yragui, a plumbing and heating contractor and owner of Redoubt Industries, says completion of his "long-range project" is still at least a couple of years away, but when it is done, he'll have a 2,500-foot long, 100-foot wide artificial lake on which to land and launch his Piper Super Cub.

Some of Yragui's neighbors aren't enamored of the idea, voicing concerns about noise. Thirteen neighbors apparently submitted comments to the Corps of Engineers, but the Corps would not release those names without a Freedom of Information request, which could take up to a month. It is not clear how many may have been supportive.

However, the Clarion did reach one neighbor familiar with aircraft engine noise.

"I've lived next to a floatplane lake before, and I don't want to live next to another one," said Judy Blume, whose home is a little more than a mile away from Yragui's proposed basin project.

"We have a quiet, nice neighborhood," she said. "Lots of neighbors have objected from the get-go. All of us are against this going on."

Blume said she was worried that what would start out as a field for the use of one or two planes, could grow to accommodate more and more air traffic.

Yragui said the basin won't be near homes and he expects to mitigate the engine noise through design elements.

"It's going to be quite a ways from any houses," Yragui said, adding he plans sod berms along the sides of the basin "so that planes taking off will be quite a bit quieter."

Landings, he said, are far less noisy than takeoffs because engines are normally powered down.

The basin would take up less than eight acres of a 160-acre plot for which Yragui already has a U.S. Corps of Engineers wetlands permit allowing him to remove black spruce and other vegetation and convert the land to hay production.

He had applied to amend that permit because he also planned to construct a gravel landing strip adjacent to the floatplane basin, which would have required fill. However, he has since abandoned those plans, he said.

A Corps official said as long as earth removed to create the basin was deposited outside the wetlands area, Yragui wouldn't need to amend his permit. Roughly 40,000 cubic yards of material would be excavated.

To build a new airfield of any type requires meeting certain requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration, such as being far enough away from any other airport so as not to create hazardous traffic conditions. Yragui said the only airfield close enough is a grass strip he owns northwest of the planned basin.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended against building the floatplane basin because it would be constructed in an area important to a lowland caribou herd and caribou calving. In a letter to the Corps, USFWS Field Supervisor Gary Sonnevil said the basin also could attract waterfowl and nesting sandhill cranes, which could be impacted by noise and in danger of collision.

Forrest McDaniel, a project manager with the Corps' regulatory division, said Yragui was given copies of the comments from Fish and Wildlife and the FAA, as well as from 13 nearby property owners. He subsequently gave up the idea of the gravel airstrip, McDaniel said.

But the basin is still a project he hopes to build.

"This is all going to be pretty basic," Yragui said, adding that he is definitely not planning a major airport.

Yragui did say, however, he is developing plans for an RV park and campground on 120 acres nearby.

Hal Spence can be reached at hspence@ptialaska.net.



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