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More information needed on armory/gym

Posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Applications to fill wetlands for the joint University of Alaska Southeast-National Guard armory and recreation building are on hold because government agencies want to know more about alternate sites, officials say.

"Because they've asked for more information, the option is you either slow down the clock or they publish a finding which is probably going to be negative," said Tony Yorba, an architect with Jensen Yorba Lott Inc. The Juneau firm is working with UAS and the National Guard on the project.

Nathan Bishop, a city planner, said city regulations require careful scrutiny of projects that will disrupt wetland habitat.

"This is a development that is going to completely excavate six full acres," Bishop said. "I felt that there were some alternative sites that weren't evaluated that needed to be looked at."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also requested that the armory proposal be withdrawn temporarily while more information was gathered, Yorba said.

Susan Hitchcock, regulatory specialist for the project at the Corps of Engineers, said the site is sensitive.

"We're trying to get it designed with some sensitivity to the environment," she said. "We look at a list of 30-some odd items in the public-interest review, everything from fish and wildlife habitat to flood control and basic public need for the project and water quality."

Plans call for the 54,000-square-foot building to be constructed on university-owned land between UAS student housing and Auke Bay Elementary School. The facility will include a gym, an indoor running track, a two-story climbing wall, and exercise, dance and weight rooms. A National Guard maintenance building also is planned for the site.

The project would place about 51,000 cubic yards of fill on about 6.2 acres of forested and scrub wetlands, according to the application to fill wetlands. Construction will take place about 100 feet from Bay Creek. Drainage would flow in a ditch along the Auke Bay school road to a culvert that empties into Bay Creek at the Glacier Highway.

Because the area is wetlands, permits are required from the Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Conservation before construction can begin. Both permits are on hold while more research is done to answer questions raised by a coastal consistency review of the project, said Clancy DeSmet, a project review coordinator with the state Division of Governmental Coordination.

In a letter to the Corps of Engineers, Juneau resident William Dunn said the area should be dedicated to wetlands, "protected and preserved as an essential part of the existing habitat." The site is near the Dan Bishop Trail, Bay Creek, a potential greenbelt to the shoreline park site recently bought by the city, and Auke Bay itself, Dunn said.

The state review, which is overseen by the DGC, began on April 8, DeSmet said. The review is designed to solicit information about the impacts of the project, while determining whether it complies with the Alaska Coastal Management Plan and the Juneau Coastal Management Plan. Participating in the process are the state departments of Environmental Conservation and Fish and Game, and the city of Juneau.

Usually, the DGC allows participants 25 days to ask and receive answers to questions not included in the initial review. DeSmet said he "stopped the clock" to allow more time for the question-and-answer period. Both the city and Fish and Game have raised questions about alternate sites, he added.

Hitchcock estimated that when the application is resubmitted to the Corps of Engineers with the requested information, it will take about a month or two to reach a final decision.

No firm end date has been set for the state coastal review, but the process should wrap up soon, Yorba said.

"I would guess sometime this summer it'll finish," he said. "I don't expect it to drag out nearly as long as, say, the (Douglas) golf course permitting has taken."

UAS Chancellor John Pugh said the project was still on schedule, with bidding set to begin this winter and construction to take place during the next construction season.

Genevieve Gagne-Hawes can be reached at geneviev@juneauempire.com.



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