Fish and wildlife biologists on the Kenai Peninsula say the proposed Juneau Creek alternative for the Sterling Highway Miles 45 through 60 project likely will have significant impacts on both fish and wildlife in the area.
Contrary to a draft fisheries evaluation prepared in November by a state consultant for the project, Alaska Department of Fish and Game commercial fisheries biologist Dave Westerman said last week that several species of fish utilize Juneau Creek throughout the year.
"There's some trout and Dollies in Juneau Creek," he said, noting that salmon also have been historically documented in the creek.
Westerman said the draft fisheries evaluation prepared by HDR Alaska only sampled streams in the area during a limited time, when water was extremely low. Thus, only one stream in the Juneau Creek area was found to have fish - and no salmon were observed.
"They needed to look at those creeks during the spring, summer and fall," Westerman said.
Westerman said there's no way to determine how a road would impact fish populations. However, he said if the Juneau Creek alternative (which would move the highway approximately 5 miles north of the Kenai River) is chosen, there would be an increase in access to areas by humans where few people currently travel.
"You're going to have more access," he said.
Increasing access to the area also is a concern for wildlife biologist Jeff Selinger. Selinger said if the Juneau Creek alternative is chosen, it's likely to have an impact on moose and bears that currently use the area.
He said one potential impact could come from motorists themselves.
The state needs to improve the road in order to bring it into line with federal highway standards. However, making those improvements likely would mean increased speed through the area. Motorists currently are limited in how fast they can go by the windy, narrow nature of the existing highway.
"When you increase highway speeds, you're going to have the potential for more collisions with wildlife," he said.
In addition, Selinger said the Juneau Creek route could open up more land in the area to development, which could lead to more confrontations between humans and bears.
"If they push a highway through there, it's definitely going to have an impact on wildlife," he said.
Both biologists agree that simply building the highway isn't the main problem of the Juneau Creek route. What concerns them, they said, is what will happen after the road is built.
"It's not the highway itself, it's the long-term impacts that come with it," Westerman said.
The Juneau Creek alternative is one of four currently being considered by the state. Also being considered are the Cooper Creek and "G South" alternatives, as well as a proposal to simply upgrade the existing route, which closely follows the Kenai River as it winds its way out of the Kenai Mountains. Both the "G South" and Cooper Creek alternatives mainly would run along the south side of the river, while Juneau Creek swings the route to the north.
The state is not expected to make a determination on its most favored route until next year. Anyone seeking more information can visit a Web site set up specifically for the project at www.sterlinghighway.net.
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