The state Department of Transportation is closing Nome’s airport for one hour a day on weekday mornings, in order for local mining company Nome Gold to conduct subsurface blasting on their property just to the west of the airport.
DOT spokesperson Meadow Bailey said the agency will close the airport between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., Monday through Friday, starting this week and through June 1.
“We’re working with [the Federal Aviation Administration] and with Nome Gold to make sure the operations that are happening adjacent to the airport property are safe and won’t impact property,” Bailey said.
While that one-hour window will start opening this week, Nome Gold Alaska Corp. general manager Randy Powelson says any blasting at the “Airport West” site along the east/west runway could be some days away, as crews are not yet on site.
In September the gold company shipped up 800,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate in preparation for its winter mining operation. Powelson said the explosives, which are inert until mixed with diesel fuel and detonated with a blasting cap, will be placed at the bottom of 40-foot holes and used to break up the permafrost. The chunks of loosened earth and rock will then be loaded up into trucks and hauled to the company’s stockpile, to be fed through their wash plant in the spring.
Powelson said the subsurface blasting itself only takes seconds. DOT’s Bailey added the hour-long window remains open so crews can check the runway and ensure it’s safe for planes.
“My understanding is that the blasting window, the time that they actually need for conducting their activity is relatively small,” Bailey said. “We’ve made that hour window just so that we can … sweep the runway and just make sure that there doesn’t happen to be any debris on the runway, which we don’t expect most days that there will be.”
Powelson with Nome Gold said the company will perform checks before any of the underground explosives are prepped, and again before any are detonated, to ensure the airport, the runway, and any other impacted areas are clear of pedestrians, vehicles, and aircraft. He added that the project is designed for minimal exposure to noise and vibration. “We don’t think there’s going to be a lot of noise,” Powelson said. “We don’t want to do anything that would endanger any aircraft or people on the ground.”
DOT’s Bailey said any blasting plans can be called off in the case of emergencies. “If there was a medevac … any operations will stop, and we’ll make a sweep of the runway and make sure and accommodate any kind of emergency during that 6 to 7 a.m. window.”
Bailey said pilots and airlines are being notified of any changes to the one-hour closure through NOTAMS, short for “notices to airmen,” from the Federal Aviation Administration.
On the ground in Nome, Fire Chief Jim West Jr. says the fire department is aware of Nome Gold’s blasting plans. However, as of Friday, the mayor and other city officials said they did not know of any planned blasting from Nome Gold or of any airport closures from DOT.