Proposed Doyon hotel site raises public safety concerns

When the Doyon proposal to build a large hotel and a dense housing complex was first announced it immediately brought back memories of the history of that area. Seared in my mind is the image of the crumpled Ryan Air Beechcraft 1900C that took the lives of 18 souls on Nov. 23, 1987. It came to rest about 500 feet from the proposed hotel site. Several other fatal and non-fatal accidents have occurred near the airport and the Beluga Lake seaplane base. Among those was the crash of a Cessna 206 returning from Bradley Lake on March 19, 1991, killing all four on board. The pilot lost visual reference during a small snow squall and crashed in Mud Bay short of the runway.

The Planning Commission and the City Council need to consider the potential risks involved of allowing the development of this magnitude in the flight path near the end of a runway.

A study released by the Boeing Company in 2019 stated that both takeoff and landing are statistically the most dangerous parts of a flight: 49% of all fatal accidents happen during the final descent and landing phases, while 14% during takeoff and initial climb. As a former airplane owner and pilot, I can attest these were the most stressful segments of a flight.

Another factor contributing to the number of flight accidents is birds. During both takeoff and landing, the chance of a bird strike is high. According to the FAA, around 61% of bird strikes occur during the landing phases of flight, while only 36% during takeoff runs, and the remaining 3% happen in between phases. On Sept. 22, 1995, a Boeing E-3B crashed at Elmendorf AFB shortly after colliding with a flock of geese during takeoff. All 24 occupants died in the crash. Flocks of ducks, geese, sandhill cranes and seagulls commonly frequent the airspace around Homer airport. Bird strikes have been reported at the airport. If one of the larger planes that use the airport, including C-130s and C-17s were to strike the complex, the results could be devastating.

There is no turning back the clock or pretending that there will not be more development in Homer. But it needs to be done in a responsible manner. Doyon has several other options for a hotel site, including the town center. The city has 7.69 acres adjacent to about 17.75 acres of vacant land owned by Valentin Caspaar, LLC. in the heart of town. A hotel/conference center at that location would be of huge benefit to the small businesses that line Pioneer Avenue. It would help move the center of the Homer Universe away from the already overcrowded Spit.

Doyon has said it will listen to public input during the planning process. They have indeed listened to their shareholders and canceled a critical land-access agreement involving the Ambler mining road, citing local concerns to the “impact to fisheries and caribou.” Will they listen to what appears to be the overwhelming opposition to this development from the Homer community, at the proposed location? A marine trades facility or similar use of the former Lighthouse Village site would be a much more appropriate use of that land.

Doug Van Patten is a Homer resident, retired soil scientist and EMT/firefighter.