Plan for floating outpost near Whittier stirs outcry

Critics say project could hurt bay still recovering from Exxon Valdez spill

Posted: Tuesday, September 28, 2004

ANCHORAGE - A proposal to sell fuel and supplies from a floating outpost in Prince William Sound 40 miles from Whittier has generated support from weekend boaters but protests by environmentalists.

Opponents of the proposed development at Knight Island say more boat traffic would threaten an uninhabited wilderness bay that has yet to fully recover from the Exxon Valdez oil spill. They worry about pollution from gasoline spills and say human clamor would hinder marine mammals, including a killer whale family now facing extinction.

"It's just not a good fit," said Pat Lavin, coordinator of the Prince William Sound Alliance for the National Wildlife Federation. "It's an inappropriate development for the location, and the management plans for the area all say that and discourage this kind of thing for this kind of place."

Supporters say a small operation about 40 miles from Whittier would ease congestion and offer travelers a haven.

"We're just a marine roadhouse," said Girdwood resident Marty Keef, one of three partners in Water World LLC. "Those who need us can use us, and those who don't need us can ignore us, and we'll be just as happy. We intend to operate as unobtrusively and efficiently as possible."

Now under review by state and federal agencies, the Knight Island Lodge/Floating Fuel Station would be secured a few hundred feet off a cliff face near the mouth of Herring Bay using four 1,300-pound anchors. It would include a double-hulled steel fuel barge holding up to 10,000 gallons of gas, a floating dock and another barge with a facility offering fresh water, ice, hot showers, groceries or even rooms.

Many people writing letters of opposition "have a dog in the fight," Keef said.

"These are the same guys who will tell you, 'I don't want two more boats in the same cove that I've been using for 10 years by myself."'

The project is aimed at small boaters who want to fish, hunt and explore the sound beyond a two- or three-hour ride from Whittier, Keef said.

Instead of returning after burning one-third to one-half of their fuel, for instance, recreational boaters could refuel at the Herring Bay facility and reach fishing grounds off Montague Island or other remote areas.

"It fills the primary rule of capitalism: Find a need and fill it," Keef said.

The partners say they don't plan to set up a restaurant, sell alcohol or solicit lodgers.

"My best shot is this: We're straight-up guys who intend to do this the best way possible," Keef said.

Keef, Anchorage land surveyor Bobby Burnett and another partner began working on the proposal about four years ago and last spring applied for permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Division of Mining, Land and Water.

The partners got word this month the project can clear an important hurdle with adjustments to the plan. The state Office of Project Management & Permitting sent the partners 20 additional stipulations for fuel and waste management, spill response and other details.

If they amend their application to include those stipulations, the project would be consistent with the Alaska Coastal Management Plan and could be considered for tideland and federal permits, project review coordinator Amanda Tuttle said.

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