ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Deep Creek saltwater boat launch is so popular on peak fishing weekends that trucks towing boats are backed up onto the Sterling Highway, blocking traffic in both directions.
''If one boat can't turn off the highway, you're in a bad situation,'' said Jodi Evers, owner of Deep Creek Sport Shop, about a quarter-mile up the highway from the Deep Creek turnoff.
She has seen traffic grind to a standstill in front of her tackle shop.
After discussions with Ninilchik residents and the Ninilchik Native Association, the state Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation is developing a $650,000 project intended to accommodate the boat traffic.
The plan calls for adding turning lanes, widening the Deep Creek access road, smoothing the road's tightest corner, reducing the grade and adding a pedestrian path from the highway to the state campground at the creek's mouth.
Construction will require filling three-quarters of an acre of wetlands bordering the road, according to a permit application filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Coming up with a plan to fix the access road hasn't been easy. The project was born five years ago amid contention between desire for better access and concern for wildlife habitat. A small but productive salt marsh dominates the lush valley where Deep Creek empties into Cook Inlet.
Ninilchik Native Association, which operates the lucrative boat launch, was tired of the traffic bottleneck. It sought to fill up to eight acres of the estuary. But a community panel organized by the state came up with an alternative with a smaller footprint.
''Anytime you lose any estuarine wetland, it's a big deal because estuarine wetlands are probably the most productive of all habitat anywhere,'' said Phil North, Kenai watershed coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency.
The state says construction won't affect endangered species or essential fish habitat, and North said he is comfortable with the compromise.
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