Worries about eagle nests delay city decision on road-ferry link

Posted: Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Eagles may slow the path for a road out of Juneau.

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The Juneau Planning Commission on Tuesday night delayed a decision to allow the state to extend Glacier Highway through the borough limits to a shuttle terminal near Skagway and Haines, citing wildlife issues.

The commission was tasked with reviewing the controversial project to see if it is consistent with the city's land-use code and comprehensive plan. But the plan to construct a highway near eagle nests caught the panel's attention.

According to city code, development must not take place within 330 feet of an active eagle nest on public land. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has applied for a variance to this standard, which is required for the city's concurrence on the project.

Sixteen active nests are located along the planned route for the road that runs through Juneau's borough limits.

The panel is waiting until the city learns more about the road alignment through these nesting areas.

Some 27 miles of the 60-mile project will run through the borough. The panel on Tuesday looked at a portion between Echo Cove and Sweeny Creek, a distance of 21 miles.

The city Community Development Department recommended the commission OK the project, finding that the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities plan meets the intent of the city's strategy for the area.

The city's approval is subject to 19 conditions. Among them are lessening potential damage to wildlife habitats, fish streams and wetlands, and considering risks of seasonal avalanches.

"I don't think anyone would say this is impact-free," said city planner Peter Freer.

His department's 29-page review recommends, among several suggestions, that the state not build roads or boat launches in sensitive ecosystems and areas that wildlife frequent.

Last year, the state announced it could not build a direct link to Skagway because the road would cross through a federal park boundary south of the northern Panhandle community.

The state's plan to build a highway to a shuttle terminal is its preferred alternative.

Juneau residents testifying at the meeting said the state was rushing the city to approve the new option.

"I think there's an enormous amount of pressure to do this project," said Mike Peterson, of Douglas.

Reuben Yost, access road project manager for DOT/PF, said this is not a new issue and the city should be familiar with the project. The state plans to start the bidding process for a construction contract on July 27.

Several planning commissioners said that because the plan has changed to a road-ferry link, they need more time to review it.

The state's plan is to make the capital cheaper and easier to reach by connecting it to a road system leading into Alaska's Interior. The planned highway would end at a shuttle terminal near the Katzehin River, and boats would take vehicles on to Skagway or Haines.

Southeast Alaska residents opposed to the road say this option would take at least the same amount of time as using today's ferry system running through Lynn Canal.

The road is estimated to cost $189 million for construction, $16 million for a new ferry terminal and $53 million for new shuttle ferries, according to the state.

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