My Turn: Hoverbarge could harm salmon river

Posted: Friday, January 18, 2008

I am writing to oppose use of a hoverbarge and amphitrac by Redfern Resources on the Taku River. The Taku is one of Southeast Alaska's most productive salmon rivers, and there is substantial concern that use of a hoverbarge, in combination with an amphitrac, will have serious consequences for fish habitat.

Use of a similar vehicle on the Stikine River is a sobering example of the harm such vessels can inflict on wildlife and habitat. A report prepared in 1996 by Gordon F. Hartman for the Friends of the Stikine Society states that in the 1990s, Cominco LTD used hovercrafts on the Stikine and Iskut rivers to access the Snip Mine, and this operation had negative effects on fish and fish habitat. Although this hovercraft was a high-speed vehicle, and the proposed hoverbarges will travel at low speeds, some lessons can be learned from the hovercraft's operations.

Large woody debris and riparian vegetation was removed from the Iskut River for the hovercraft. This had a negative effect on fish habitat, and must not occur on the Taku River. Also, when the hovercraft traveled over shallow areas or side channels, salmon fry were washed onto shore from wave action and pressure. Although the hoverbarges will likely not cause as much wake as a typical hovercraft, Redfern has not tested what effect the hoverbarge may have on fry in side channels or shallow areas. Hoverbarges do create a spray that could wash up fry.

Redfern has likened the pressure impact of the hoverbarge and amphitrac to that of a human footprint. As we know, stepping on a salmon fry will kill it. Redfern needs to have field tests that prove the vehicle will not result in stranding or disturbance of salmon fry.

The hoverbarge proposal is inconsistent with the Alaska Coastal Management Program's Transportation Standard (11AAC 112.280) and its Habitat Standard (11AAC 112.300). Redfern Resources should provide scientific evidence on its impacts not only on salmon and eulachon, but also to wildlife habitats and stream channels. Additionally, the company has provided no data on the vehicles' maneuverability or guarantees that it will not impact commercial and personal use fishers on the river.

Redfern has also applied for a Title 41 fish habitat permit and a Title 38 land use permit but has not met the requirements for either permit. While its permit applications deny that channelization or bank alternations will occur, there is evidence that it may happen. The company has not filed a Spill Response Plan and has failed to show how its proposal will not interfere with harvestable levels of salmon and moose.

The protection of Alaska's wild resources and habitat is of prime importance and deserves the highest quality oversight. I ask you to hold Redfern Resources strictly accountable for their proposed actions to the citizens of our state and our nation.

• Bonnie Demerjian is a Wrangell resident.

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