Ducks may derail Unalaska harbor project

Posted: Sunday, November 05, 2000

UNALASKA (AP) -- A flock of threatened ducks could scuttle plans for a proposed new Unalaska harbor.

The city wants to build a new $8 million harbor in the bay at Little South America with the help of $6 million from the Army Corps of Engineers.

But the project has been put on hold because of a flock of Steller's eider ducks that winter near the proposed harbor. The ducks are classified as ''threatened,'' and several federal agencies are leery of disturbing their habitat.

Sorting out the balance between wildlife habitat and development could take years of study, push back the proposed harbor project until at least 2004, or stop it altogether.

The city had initially hoped to begin construction as early as next year.

''It's just going to put a serious crimp on our plans for Little South America,'' said Scott Seabury, Unalaska city manager.

The proposed development is often referred to as the ''small boat harbor,'' but it would be used for vessels in the 150-foot range. A second phase of the harbor could accommodate smaller boats.

Army Corps of Engineers officials say the project should proceed as soon as possible. Depending on the design, the harbor would create badly needed moorage for 40-70 boats.

But representatives of the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service want to take a closer look before construction begins. They are recommending a formal environmental impact study, which would take several years and cost at least $200,000.

''Our primary concern was the use of Little South America by Steller's eiders and other sea ducks,'' said Mark Schroeder, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. ''Our request to the corps was that it needed to be studied more.''

Both supporters and critics of the harbor plan agree that the area is the winter home of 100 to 150 eiders. They disagree, however, on the effect development would have on the birds.

''The project proponents really believe if they build a boat harbor, the eiders will just move,'' said John Burns, a corps biologist. ''Fish and Wildlife thinks they're there for a reason.''

There are other options for a new harbor that may not be as environmentally sensitive as the Little South America site. But each would require expensive breakwater projects.

The Steller's eider was classified as threatened by the federal government in 1997, although there are not specific population counts for the birds. The duck gained the distinction largely because its nesting grounds on the Yukon Delta have diminished dramatically.

The eiders spend their winters in the Aleutians and Alaska Peninsula, and summer on the North Slope.

Scott Diener, city planning director, said the city may continue working with the Army Corps of Engineers or may pay for an environmental study to expedite the process.



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