City joins wetlands enhancement project

Dirt and rock from new high school site to be used at Duck Creek

Posted: Thursday, September 22, 2005

One project's waste can be another's treasure.

The city of Juneau has joined forces with a multi-agency team to use the dirt and rock excavated from the Dimond Park high school site for a wetlands enhancement project in the Mendenhall Valley. The Nancy Street Wetland Enhancement Project is intended to improve wetlands habitat and water quality in the Duck Creek area, said Samia Savell, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"When some of the agencies found out that they were going to have a lot of fill available from the high school project we thought this would be a good opportunity to do this wetland enhancement project," Savell said. "We're going to be putting a lot of fill in this area and creating a mixed wetland habitat for fish and birds and wildlife."

The earth excavated from the high school site is being used to fill one of three gravel pits that were dug sometime in the 1950s and have left murky ponds nearly void of wildlife, Savell said. This project is modeled after the Church of the Nazarene wetlands enhancement project that was completed just upstream from the Nancy Street project site in 2000 by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"The preliminary data that we've gotten from water-quality studies there indicate that water quality is actually improving in that wetlands. So the idea is to kind of recreate what happened upstream down in this pond," Savell said.

Bob Millard, project manager for the valley high school, said he hopes to use all of the excavated material for the wetlands project but is not yet sure if it will all fit.

"We have about 100,000 cubic yards of excavation that has to come out of the high school project. There aren't any real viable dump sites in the community that we can use right now," he said. "It makes a perfect waste disposal site as well as a wetlands enhancement project."

Millard said the wetlands enhancement project saves the city money.

"Having the ability to get rid of the material from the high school at a location that's so close to the building site saved the city approximately $100,000," he said.

Neil Sticherd, a habitat restoration biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the Duck Creek area has had water quality problems for decades that are not due to artificial contaminants, like some might assume.

"We're living in a big glacial valley and there's just natural strata, or layers, of different geologic materials," he said. "Wherever the groundwater can exit that strata it's picking up iron that is naturally occurring in the valley floor. When the iron is brought to the surface through the water, it contacts the air and oxidizes and creates this ugly orange color."

The enhancement will heavily alter what the landscape looked like before the project began, Savell said.

"We'll have some deep water areas and a stream channel that will go through here with some shallow water wetland areas and some real shallow upland habitat for bird nesting sites and refuge," she said.

"It will filter some of the poor water quality that we have entering the stream right now," Sticherd said.

Savell said there are still some details to work out as the project moves forward.

"One of the options that we've been looking into is trying to incorporate a little lookout area or some sort of path meandering through here, but there's folks living in these houses too," she said.

Savell said the wetlands enhancement project could take two years because the fill could keep coming until next summer. Phase one of the high school construction is scheduled to last until mid-July, 2006.

Savell said the area will not be too pretty while the heavy machinery fills up the pond in the coming months.

"It's going to be messy for a while," she said. "I think that the main point is that the end product here is going to be beneficial, but in the mean time it's going to be kind of rough."

• Eric Morrison can be reached at

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