Endangered species concerns likely to delay Unalaska project
In addition to jeopardizing Alaska’s big pollock and cod fisheries, lawsuits by environmental groups under the federal Endangered Species Act are also creating problems with public works projects in coastal communities.
Former Unalaska Mayor Frank Kelty, now a natural resources analyst on the city’s staff, told state legislators in Juneau on Jan. 30 that his city may have to do a formal environmental impact statement on a much-needed small boat harbor project because of lawsuits by environmental groups over Steller ducks, a threatened species.
Doing an EIS rather than a more streamlined environmental assessment will delay the project and add costs. The harbor, badly needed in Unalaska, will provide space for 70 medium- to small-size vessels, Kelty said.
Two hundred of the ducks overwinter near Unalaska’s harbor, which is an intensely used marine industrial facility, he said. Unalaska has been the nation’s top fisheries port for more than a decade, Kelty told a luncheon gathering of lawmakers, according to data compiled by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Another city project that could face problems is a planned 500-foot extension to the existing 1,200-foot city dock in Unalaska. The extension is needed to accommodate Coast Guard, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and state ferry vessels.
Building the extension will require that the city fill in two acres of wetlands. As mitigation, the city may have to adopt an alternative construction design that will cost three times that of the design now planned and which would lose the access to upland shoreline acreage that would be valuable rental space for the municipality, Kelty said.
One positive development is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency with jurisdiction over spectacled and Steller eider ducks, has backed away from an earlier proposal to designate 25,000 square miles of lands in Western Alaska critical habitat for the ducks, Kelty said.
On Jan. 12, the agency announced it would reduce the proposed critical habitat by 93 percent, instead designating 2,800 square miles as protected habitat.