Debate intensifies on Coastal Trail extension routes

Posted: Tuesday, September 25, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles wants the design work begun on a 12-mile extension to the Coastal Trail before he leaves office next fall.

The governor said he favors a route that would extend the trail as close to the coast as possible by hugging the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge. That route would allow walkers, skiers and bicyclists to enjoy the refuge without harming waterfowl that nest there, or the bears, moose, coyotes and other wildlife that roam the area, the governor said.

By keeping the trail outside the refuge, Knowles hopes to satisfy a federal law that says a trail cannot cross the refuge or in some cases even come near it unless planners can show there is no other ''prudent or feasible route.''

State planners have outlined two possible routes for public review and formal study, and opponents have come out with their own alternative which is away from the coast.

State planners were scheduled to hold a public open house Tuesday night to discuss the two routes nearer the coast. Opponents of those routes also plan to unveil a third route that veers farther inland.

Another public hearing will be held in February or as soon as the draft environmental study is complete.

Geoffrey Parker, an attorney for coastal route opponents, said his clients drafted the inland route because the state's trail planners stopped considering a route away from the refuge.

Any route that skirts close to the refuge has so far met with stiff opposition from some biologists and many coastal homeowners.

''If the governor wants a trail, he'd better start looking at prudent and feasible' alternatives,'' Parker said.

The coastal routes also have loyal fans.

Nancy Pease, a board member of the Anchorage Trails and Greenways Coalition, said she would like to see it go as close to the shore as possible so people can get to the refuge.

''Here we have this wonderful backyard natural area and no way for most people to enjoy it,'' Pease said. ''I favor as many coastal miles as possible.''

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