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As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration takes more time to decide the fate of a new fisheries center slated for Lena Point in Juneau, city officials and neighbors are reviewing plans for a new subdivision and sewer system in the area.
Because of budget overruns, NOAA is re-evaluating options for the Lena Point project and its current lab at Auke Bay. A decision was expected in mid-January, but Kelly Sandy, director of NOAA's Western Region Support Center, said a determination now is expected by mid-March.
NOAA canceled the bid process in July to allow officials to rescope the project to fit a $51 million budget. Sandy said he is preparing give his boss, NOAA Deputy Undersecretary for Oceans and Atmosphere Scott Gudes, more information about the Lena Point and Auke Bay sites.
"We had another request to look for more information and as a result I asked for more time," he said.
Gov. Frank Murkowski and city officials have encouraged the federal agency to put the center at Lena Point, where a University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences center is planned. As earlier proposed, the 69,000-square-foot federal lab would house 100 National Marine Fisheries Service employees in Juneau.
Meanwhile, city contractors installed a 1.2-mile road and utilities in the fall that will serve the new center and a proposed 48-lot city subdivision. The city and NOAA were to share funding for the $2.7 million road project, although the city is waiting for roughly half of NOAA's $1.7 million contribution.
"If NOAA doesn't put something there, we will have some nice lots and a nice subdivision," Interim City Manager John MacKinnon said. "It would have cost more to cancel the project or suspend work than to keep going."
Meanwhile, the subdivision and a sewer system for the new homes are under review by the city, state and federal agencies. The subdivision plans are scheduled to go to the Juneau Planning Commission on March 11, and have been the subject of three special city Wetlands Review Board meetings over the past several months.
Some wetlands board members on Monday recommended the city remove six subdivision lots near Picnic Creek, northeast of the subdivision, to protect wetlands and add a buffer between Lena Loop Road and the lower subdivision lots to prevent erosion. They also suggested the city actively monitor the new subdivision's sewer system.
The Lena Extended Neighborhood Association, which objected to the city's plans for the new Lena Point road, has been watching the subdivision and sewer system plans closely.
In particular, the neighborhood is concerned that a system connecting individual home wastewater treatment plants to a common marine outfall won't work properly. Association President Kirk Miller said the system is identical to a troubled system that was replaced at the Bonnie Brae subdivision and is now in use at the Bayview subdivision. Both subdivisions are on North Douglas.
"The main problem with the system is you have too many operators ... too many to maintain it. That's how Bonnie Brae and Bayview have failed, no one is around checking it," he said. "I do think the city and borough realizes it and I do think they will do a better job of it, but I still think it's destined for failure. It was never intended for a mass housing subdivision."
Lena residents also have expressed concern the system eventually could serve more than 170 homes if additional city and private land nearby is developed, Miller said.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has issued a preliminary draft permit for the Lena Point sewer system as a way to focus discussion, said Tim Wingerter, statewide section manager for the domestic wastewater permitting program. The permit is under review, he said.
"It will be different from Bonnie Brae and Bayview in that there will be much more oversight," he said. "If we can make sure individual homeowner facilities are properly maintained, it certainly can work fine."
A memo from City Public Works Director Joe Buck said the individual treatment plants at Lena Point would be laid out with easements to allow city maintenance crews to inspect, maintain or replace them. The plants would have a warning light that would turn on if the aeration motors weren't functioning.
In addition, the city would collect and treat the wastewater with disinfecting ultraviolet light before it is discharged into the ocean, Buck's memo said. The outfall pipe would extend 400 feet into saltwater at a depth of 14 feet, according to the DEC preliminary draft permit.
Joanna Markell can be reached at email@example.com.