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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 22, 2003

Midway airport again in danger of closing

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

The workers who keep Midway Atoll's airport and other facilities operating are once again preparing to lock up and leave by Jan. 3, because of lack of money.

"We're still working like crazy to find the funds to extend them again," said Barbara Maxfield, spokeswoman for the Pacific Islands office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

She said money to keep the airport operational is in a U.S. Department of Transportation budget that is still being considered in Congress. The bill containing the money is not scheduled for a vote until Jan. 20, she said.

The possible closing of the Midway field could create problems for trans-Pacific passenger jets that have two engines. Many airlines have switched to these jets because of their fuel efficiency, but federal authorities require them to have a mid-Pacific emergency landing site. Midway is about 2,500 miles southeast of Tokyo and 1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu.

Midway is a nesting site for hundreds of thousands of seabirds, and a place where Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles haul out. It also is a national historical site, with a century of history as a communications relay area, an oceanic refueling stop for early long-distance aircraft, and most notably, the site of the battle that turned the tide in the Pacific in World War II.

The Fish and Wildlife Service took it over from the Navy in the mid-1990s, and had a contract with Midway Phoenix Corp. to run its facilities and keep the airport open. Midway Phoenix left in 2002 in a dispute with the service, which for most of the past year has used the Alaska firm Chugach McKinley to keep the water, power and the airport running. There have been no visitor programs, however, since Midway Phoenix left.

Maxfield said the service has given Chugach McKinley a notice to stop work, and is planning to remove most of its employees on an Aloha Airlines charter flight Jan. 3.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.