Barge ramp approved for Cascade Point

Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Juneau planning commissioners unanimously approved a permit Tuesday for a barge ramp at Cascade Point that will be used to export sand and gravel from the area.

Last year, Goldbelt Inc., Juneau's urban Alaska Native corporation, had a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as the city, to build a dock and marina that was larger than the barge ramp considered Tuesday night. The dock would have been used to ferry mine workers across Berners Bay from Cascade Point, which is 2.5 miles from the end of the road.

But the Corps permit was revoked in a lawsuit brought by environmental groups involving the mine's tailings plan. By that time, Goldbelt had already brought in half of the allowed 23,000 cubic yards of fill for the breakwater. It is still there.

"Though it is undeniable that it will detract from the scenic quality of the shoreline, as any industrial development would, it is minor compared to the previously approved project," city planners wrote about the project.

In contrast to the original proposal, the barge ramp doesn't include a marina, and no refueling would happen there.

The area is rich in herring, hooligan and other creatures.

Commissioners required that Goldbelt avoid marine mammals and stop work if herring or hooligan are spawning, among other conditions on the permit.

When a question arose regarding how long the company should suspend operations in the area to avoid harming fish eggs, Goldbelt requested the more protective four weeks rather than the three weeks proposed by the city wetlands review board, city planner Teri Camery said.

"I think the applicant has done a great job of addressing the real concerns out there," said Commissioner Frank Rue, who is on the wetland review board. "This may actually create some herring spawning areas."

Murray Walsh of Channel Construction Inc., the Juneau-based contractor working with Goldbelt on the project, said the public needs this barge ramp. Juneau presently imports sand and aggregate rock to the area.

The Cascade Point barge ramp was originally on the consent agenda Tuesday night, which can be approved without discussion. Rob Cadmus of Southeast Alaska Conservation Council asked the commission to put it on the regular agenda, which allows public comment.

Cadmus had no specific recommendations, but said the applicant had been "receptive" to concerns about the project's impact on Berners Bay.

"The thing I most want to stress is the importance of Berners Bay," he said. "The reason it's such a special place is because up until a few years ago there was little or no industrial development there."

Commissioners Maria Gladziszewski and Vic Scarano recused themselves from the discussion of the project. Gladziszewski's husband is an attorney for Goldbelt, and Scarano is the company's chief financial officer.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or e-mail

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