Kodiak officials fret over Steller's eider proposal

Posted: Wednesday, June 14, 2000

KODIAK (AP) -- Under a sweeping proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kodiak Island's coastline would be targeted as critical habitat for the Steller's eider. If successful, the plan could have dire consequences for the community, local officials say.

Linda Freed, Kodiak Island Borough community development director, called the proposal a hastily crafted piece of legislation that could ''stifle, if not halt,'' most Kodiak projects.

''Marine development is the foundation of this region's economy,'' Freed told the Kodiak Daily Mirror. ''The proposal designates every inch of shoreline from high tideline to a quarter mile offshore.''

Under the plan, 9,000 miles of coastline from Kachemak Bay through the Aleutian Islands would be designated critical habitat for the small sea duck, a threatened species.

Projects such as future expansion of the St. Herman boat harbor in Kodiak or current plans to improve the Egegik Airport in Bristol Bay, already requiring federal permits, would undergo additional scrutiny with the Steller's eider critical habitat designation in place.

Fish and Wildlife is taking public comments on the proposal until Aug. 31 and could fine-tune the designation based on the comments.

As it is now, the proposal is a blanket designation that covers coastal waters regardless of coastline type, habitat value to Steller's eiders, or importance to the human residents of the region, Freed said.

For example, the Kodiak urban waterfront and harbor is included in the proposal, an area that ''has long been developed for human activity and lacks most, if not all, of the characteristics that would make it of value to Steller's eider,'' she said.

The proposal is a Fish and Wildlife response to an out-of-court settlement stemming from a lawsuit filed by two environmental groups, Christians Caring for Creation and the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity.

The Steller's eider winters in the Kodiak area and often is the most abundant species tallied in Audubon's annual Christmas bird count in Kodiak. The sea duck spends the spring and summer months breeding in the Yukon Delta and National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, also proposed critical habitat.

Fish and Wildlife officials said the critical habitat designation will not affect the lives or livelihoods of rural and Native Alaskans or change the rights of private landowners.

But what affects local development affects the livelihoods of rural Alaskans, Freed said.

The plan was developed for ''convenience or expediency,'' she said, and fails to spell out the specific criteria Fish and Wildlife and the Environmental Protection Agency will use to evaluate projects and their impacts.

The way it is currently crafted, the proposal also could affect remote fish processing plants around the island, which require a federal general discharge permit, said Scott Smiley, director of the Fishery Industrial Technology Center on Near Island.

''The NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) allows canneries to process seafood and dump fish waste,'' he said. ''How the new designation will affect the remote processors is not clear.''

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