Report: Juneau Creek route looks to be easiest on fish

Posted: Thursday, December 02, 2004

A plan to run the proposed Sterling Highway Mile 45 to 60 redesign project north of the Kenai River and across Juneau Creek appears to have the least impact on anadromous fish habitat of three possible alternatives, according to a preliminary report prepared for the state.

The report, compiled by HDR Alaska as part of its preparation of a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS), looked at three build alternatives currently being considered by the state. The three alternatives set to be included in the SEIS are known as the Cooper Creek alternative, the G South alternative and the Juneau Creek F Wilderness alternative.

The report, however, did not make any conclusions about which alternative would be most friendly to fish habitat, and Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities project engineer Miriam Tanaka cautioned it is not the final word on the impact of potential alternatives.

"We're still in the process of developing the final document," Tanaka said Wednesday.

Tanaka said the fisheries evaluation will be included in the final SEIS, which she said is expected to be completed by next fall.

The study looked at the streams that would be affected by each route, describing the various waterways and sampling for any fish present. Most of the waterways covered were small tributaries, many of which were dry creek beds. The report noted that the information was collected in September of this year, when the peninsula was experiencing a dry period.

According to the report, the Juneau Creek alternative would impact one small stream where only Dolly Varden were ob-served.

By comparison, the other two alternatives the Cooper Creek and "G South" routes both were found to have possible impacts on streams where Dolly Varden and salmon were found. The Cooper Creek route would cross the creek itself, where coho and sockeye salmon as well as Dollies are known to be present. It also would cross another small creek found to contain cohos.

The G South alternative would cross two streams with fish present, one of which was determined to be coho habitat.

The project to redesign the road through Cooper Landing has been a hot topic for several years now. However, this latest report marks another step forward for a project estimated to cost in excess of $50 million.

State planners have said in the past that the road needs to be redesigned in order to bring it up to federal standards. Currently, the portion of the highway in question is a narrow, two-lane road that winds through the Kenai Mountains along the Kenai River. Accidents are common, and at least one major accident involving a diesel tanker truck has caused petroleum to leak into the river.

Last year, DOT concluded its public scoping program geared toward finding a route most palatable to the public. However, because the area is environmentally sensitive, none of the three routes now being proposed has gained overwhelming support from the public. The Juneau Creek route would swing to the north of the existing highway, crossing Juneau Creek below Juneau Creek Falls. The highway would not return to the existing route until just below the Russian River, meaning the Kenai River would not be crossed. This route, however, would interfere with popular hiking trails in the area.

The Cooper Creek and G South alternatives call for the most improvements to the existing road. The main difference between the two is that the Cooper Creek route would veer south of the existing road after crossing the Cooper Landing bridge at Kenai Lake.

The G South alternative calls for the road to skip the Cooper Landing bridge and continue along the Kenai River Valley on the north side of the river until meeting back up with the existing highway after crossing the Kenai River below Cooper Creek.

Both alternatives would leave the highway closer to the Kenai River than the Juneau Creek route.

Tanaka said DOT plans to have more meetings with the public but said nothing has been scheduled at this time. Extensive public input into the project already has been taken, and she said DOT would like to give people more time before soliciting any further public input.

"We don't want to burn people out on the process," she said.

The project currently has no funding, although it's likely that once a final alternative is identified, the state will look to the federal government to pick up the bill.

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