USDA urges state to scrap erosion project

Posted: Monday, February 08, 2010

FAIRBANKS - The U.S. Department of Agriculture says an erosion control project designed to improve spawning salmon habitat near Delta Junction has failed so badly that it should be undone - at a cost of up to $10 million.

The USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service says the project at Clearwater Slough made drainage problems worse rather than better. The agency is proposing to remove dikes and about a mile of infiltration basin, which is designed to collect and absorb stormwater, and to fill in side inlets.

The efforts were made a decade ago to reduce erosion in the area of the Delta-Clearwater River and Clearwater Slough, along with flooding on nearby farmland and roads.

"We got not even a third of the way into it and decided this was not functioning the way we wanted it to function," said Molly Voeller, Alaska spokeswoman for the conservation service.

Removing it, she said, will "take the scar off the habitat."

The first phase of the project was completed in 2001. A five-year effort to identify and fix problems followed.

The cost of the recovery plan is estimated at $8 million to $10 million, which planners feel is "justifiable in light of current conditions and public concerns," according to a listing in the federal register.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is reviewing the proposal and isn't ready to comment on what effect it might have on fish habitat.

Finding money for the project could be difficult.

"I'd say it's on a reachable shelf," Voeller said. "We're not giving up on it."

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