City ironing out details to secure funds for Duck Creek

City would provide $1.2 million while feds kick in $2.5 million

Posted: Monday, December 04, 2000

Giving Duck Creek a transfusion of water from Nugget Creek is one of the sticking points to be worked out before the city agrees to a federal project to restore the Mendenhall Valley stream.

Duck Creek's once-plentiful salmon runs have been depleted by urban development. Some of the few spawning areas in the spring-fed creek go dry at times, stranding the fish. The slow-moving stream doesn't flush out the too-plentiful iron, which uses up oxygen the fish need.

The city is very supportive of the proposed restoration project, but it's still working out details with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Rorie Watt of the city Engineering Department.

Duck Creek, for most of its path, sits next to houses and the Mendenhall Loop Road. The creek has been damaged by sediment and pollutants running off the hard surfaces of the urbanized valley, where vegetative buffers have been removed.

The naturally existing problem of ground iron getting into the stream has been intensified by digging up the land for development. And the stream's flow is hindered by too-small road culverts.

The creek's chum runs are gone. Some coho wander in from Gastineau Channel to winter, but only the cutthroat trout run is healthy.

The Corps of Engineers responding to years of local efforts to test restoration projects is planning a $4 million project that would include a city contribution of $1.2 million in cash or in kind.

The original restoration plan, announced in April, would add to the stream's flow by piping in water from Nugget Creek.

The project also would line part of the streambed, replace small pipe culverts with large bottomless arches or bridges, turn iron-rich dredge ponds into filtering marshes, catch pollutants in storm drains and build vegetative buffers along the creek.

But when the project is done, its improvements will belong to the city. And Watt is concerned about the feasibility of a pipeline from Nugget Creek and its maintenance costs.

"We have suffered a little bit of heartburn over that issue," he said.

The water first would pass through an existing tunnel in a knob of Thunder Mountain, be piped to Dredge Lake and then to Duck Creek. The U.S. Forest Service, which owns much of the land involved, plans to meet with the city this month to discuss options, said Don Martin, the fish and wildlife staff officer in the Juneau Ranger District.

The Forest Service might maintain the pipe, at least on its own land, Martin said, although that hasn't been decided. The fish that overwinter in Dredge Lake also would be helped by having more water, he said.

The project won't go forward until the city and the Corps of Engineers agree on the local match, Watt said. It's not clear how much cash would be required.

The city also wants the project to include rerouting Duck Creek at the Juneau Airport to pass by the west boundary. And the city is waiting for the Corps of Engineers to put a value on some creekside city land that the city would dedicate as a greenbelt. That value would be part of the city's contribution to the project.

Staffers from the Corps of Engineers who have been working on the project couldn't be reached for comment. The Corps of Engineers has money for some of the project's engineering work but not yet for construction, said K Koski, a National Marine Fisheries Service biologist who has worked closely with the Corps on the project.

Deputy Mayor John MacKinnon said the Juneau Assembly generally supports restoring Duck Creek, which could serve as areawide mitigation for development that affects other wetlands. But it's also good in itself.

"I think Duck Creek has got a lot of potential to be a valuable little piece of water in the community, and it's certainly an impacted piece of water," MacKinnon said.

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