Galena Airport, Alaska
The 611th Air Support Group is responsible for the forward operation locations at Galena Airport and King Salmon Airport, and Eareckson Air Station. The 11th Air Force also accomplished the drawdown of the forward operating bases at Galena Airport, King Salmon Airport and Eareckson Air Force Station (Shemya Island), in a two-year period of time between 1993 and 1995.
The Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) at Galena Airport, Campion Air Station has evolved from a small group, which met irregularly to voice complaints, to a cooperative and mutually beneficial partnership between the community and the Air Force. RAB members helped locate thousands of drums and additional contamination which the Air Force had not known about. The Air Force helped community residents receive necessary training to participate in the cleanup work.
Galena is a small village located in west central Alaska. It is approximately 350 miles north-west of Anchorage and 275 miles west of Fairbanks along the north bank of the Yukon River. Adjacent to the village is an airfield and associated support buildings used by the Air Force for aircraft out of Elmendorf AFB. The Air Force is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the airport and associated facilities.
It is currently accessible only by air and water (the Yukin River). River boats or barges may be used when the river is ice-free. The airport has been in service at least since World War II when it was a Military installation. Until the end of the Cold War, it served as an alert base for F-15 fighters. Now Military use is only occasional. Galena serves as commercial landing field for aircraft up to and including DC-6s and Boeing 727s. There is also quite a lot of commercial and private General Aviation use. This airport has fences and controlled access.
This airport had passenger enplanements of 8,856 in 1997. That is just short of the 10,000 enplanements required to make it a Primary airport. Therefore, according to the latest available data, Galena Airport is Non-Primary. Maintenance of the Galena Airport is unique that it is maintained by Alaska Department of Transportation personnel with equipment and facilities paid for by the United States Air Force. The Air Force designs and builds any pavement rehabilitation that they find is necessary on all airport areas except the General Aviation Apron. However, there has been an Alaska Department of Transportation design project for construction of a parallel taxiway on the books for quite some time.
The main runway (7-25) is `7,254' long and 150' wide with paved shoulders on the Asphalt Concrete surfaced portion. The jointed Portland Cement Concrete (PCC) section, that is 900' long and 150' wide on the east end of the runway is gravel shouldered. There is also a 2786' gravel runway (6-24) on the airport but that is not considered herein. Taxiway D (the "Elephant Ear") is also PCC surfaced. The General Aviation Apron (Branch 4200) has a Bituminous Surface Treatment (BST) for surfacing. The remainder of the airport's hard surfaces are Asphalt Concrete. The last airport improvement project took place on the runway in 1987.
Excluding the paved shoulder, there are over 2.8 million square feet of hard surfaced areas on the Galena Airport. That is 45.1 lane-miles or 62.6 acres that are maintained by State of Alaska, Interior District personnel.
Galena is located on the flood plain in a broad basin more than 30 miles wide bordered by hills and mountains up to 2000 ft high. The basin is crossed by the Yukon River, whose elevation is approximately 100 ft (mean sea level) at low water at Galena, and by the Yukon's large north tributary, the Koyukuk River. Both rivers are bordered by a flood plain that is up to 10 miles wide and covered by many elongated channel lakes, sloughs, and swamps. The rest of the basin between the flood plain and the bordering bed-rock consists of alluvial terraces. Galena is within the discontinuous permafrost zone although there is no known permafrost on the base. The water table varies with the elevation of the Yukon River, but generally is 8-10 ft below the ground surface. There have been times during spring breakup when the elevation of the river actually has become higher than that of the airport. However, the water table at the base seems to rise no more than 2-4 ft below the surface. The base is surrounded by a system of levees. The soils at the site are generally river deposits.
Secretary of Defense Recommendation: None. The Secretary's proposed list submitted on May 13, 2005 did not include this facility. It was added by the Commission on July 19, 2005 for further consideration.Secretary of Defense Justification: None.
Community Concerns: The community argued that Galena is still needed as a forward operating location (FOL) because its location offers significant operational advantages over Eielson and Elmendorf AFBs. They also cited Galena's value as an alternate landing site for aircraft based at other locations as no other suitable landing sites are within a reasonable distance.
Galena is an extremely small community, and it estimated it would lose about a third of its total jobs, as well as utilities the Air Force provides to its schools located on the airport. If the Commission's added recommendation is approved, the community seeks a gradual or phased transition process to mitigate the negative economic impact.
Commission Findings: The rationale for maintaining two forward operating locations in Alaska was derived during the Cold War. However, the Commission found the security environment has changed and the requirement for maintaining these forward operation locations is not essential. The mission currently conducted at Galena could be conducted at Eielson AFB with little operational impact and acceptable risk. Another forward operating location in King Salmon, AK would continue to be maintained. Galena has also served as an alternate landing site for aircraft based at other locations who encounter mechanical or weather related problems. However, the Commission found that closing Galena would not present significant risk, as other measures could be taken depending on the specific circumstances.
The Commission also found that other Federal Agencies operate on the Galena airport, closing the Air Force forward operating location would likely increase their costs of operation. The Commission found that these costs would be modest, and that other means might be available to help them offset those costs.
The Commission shares the concerns expressed by the community about the economic impact on the community. The Commission recommends that the Air Force not close Galena Forward Operating Location until the community has adequate time for planning and redevelopment efforts. This will help ensure that the services provided by federal and state agencies are not interrupted before these agencies have an opportunity to plan for the greater operating costs. Further, the Commission requests the Air Force to work with the state and local government to support continued winter maintenance activities at the Galena Airport runway, so that the site may serve as a viable alternative emergency airport until it closes the Galena FOL; and to expeditiously address environmental cleanup at the site. Finally, the Commission requests the Air Force to work with the local and state government to maintain the infrastructure so as to provide for an orderly transition from a military operation to a civilian operation at the Galena Airport.
Commission Recommendations: The Commission found that the Secretary of Defense deviated substantially from final selection criteria 1 and 4, as well as from the Force Structure Plan. Therefore, the Commission recommends the following:
Close Galena Forward Operating Location, Alaska.
The Commission found that this change and the recommendation as amended are consistent with the final selection criteria and the Force Structure Plan. The full text of this and all Commission recommendations can be found in Appendix Q.
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