DATE: July 3, 2006
TO: Planning Commission
FROM: Peter Freer, Planner
Community Development Department
FILE NO.: CSP2006-00005 - Addendum
PROPOSAL: Construct a 50.8 mile, two-lane paved highway from the end of Veterans Memorial (Glacier) Highway at Echo Cove to a point just north of the Katzehin River on the east side of Lynn Canal. Approximately 23.4 miles, from Echo Cove to Sweeney Creek, are the subject of this State Project Review.
Applicant: State of Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, Contact: Pat Kemp, PE, Engineering Manager
Property Owners: U.S. Forest Service; Goldbelt Corporation
Property Address: End of Veterans Memorial Highway, northward
Zoning: Rural Reserve
Access: Glacier Highway
Existing Land Use: ROW and vacant
Surrounding Land Use:
North - Berners Bay rivers/Kakuhan Range
South - Berners Bay/Lynn Canal
East - Juneau road system
West - Lynn Canal/Chilkat Range
The Planning Commission, at its June 13 meeting, asked staff to further analyze four regulatory standards with regard to the Juneau Access Road project, alternative 2B. Specifically, Commissioners wanted further information regarding the interpretation and application of CBJ 49.70.904 (4), Coastal Development, CBJ 49.70.925 (a) and (f), Transportation and Utilities, and CBJ 49.70.910 (b), a Geophysical Hazard standard. Two of the CBJ code standards cited above include the language “feasible and prudent alternative” and one code section refers to “feasible and prudent steps.” The Commission has asked whether, under these CBJ code sections, it may compare the plans submitted, (EIS Alternative 2B) to of the other “alternatives” listed in the Final Environmental Impact Statement.
Consistent with the Law Department’s explanation of the the Planning Commission’s scope of review under Alaska Statute 35.30.010 - .040., the Commission’s review of the Juneau Access project is limited to consideration of whether the project plans submitted by the State of Alaska comply with applicable sections of the CBJ Land Use Code. This means that the Planning Commission is to determine whether the submitted road design and alignment complies with the CBJ Code, or whether other feasible and prudent design alternatives exist, for example, bridging or tunneling instead of dredging and filling, in a certain area. The Planning Commission’s role is not to compare the overall road project, as proposed, to the other Juneau Access transportation alternatives listed in the EIS and to determine which of these EIS alternatives complies best with the CBJ Land Use Code.The portion of the road under review in this report is between Echo Cove and Sweeney Creek, just this side of Comet Beach at Station 1295.
49.70.905 (4) Dredging and filling shall be prevented in highly productive tideflats and wetlands, subtidal areas important to shellfish, and water important for migration, spawning and rearing of salmon and other sportfish species, unless there is a significant public need for the project and there is no feasible and prudent alternative to meet the public need.
This section states that dredging and filling shall be prevented in the specified areas, unless there is a significant public need for the project and there is no feasible and prudent alternative to meet the public need.
Feasible and prudent is defined in the CBJ Land Use Code at 49.80.120:
Consistent with sound engineering practice and not causing environmental, social, or economic costs that outweigh the public benefit to be derived from compliance with the standard which is modified by the term “feasible and prudent.”
1) “Highly productive tideflats”
Dredging and filling does not occur in highly productive tideflats in the road segment under review in this report. Support piers in the Lace and Antler Rivers will be driven with vibratory hammers (or in consultation with NMFS for other measures). The project therefore complies with this portion of CBJ 49.70.905(4)
Highly productive tideflats exist at the estuaries of the Antler and Lace Rivers. The lower reaches of the Lace and Antler Rivers provide critical spawning habitat for eulachon, an important prey species for fish and marine mammals including salmon and sea lions.
Protection of the eulachon run and its supporting habitat has been a priority of the National Marine Fisheries Service. At their recommendation, the Lace and Antler River bridges have been moved upstream from their original location The bridges are designed with 50-foot bridge extensions on each side. These extension avoid fill in wetlands and can provide a corridor for wildlife travel. Support piers will be placed 144 feet apart. The northern-most channel of the Antler River will be clear-spanned to avoid impacts to an important eulachon habitat.
2) “Highly productive wetlands”
Highly productive wetlands are avoided with the road alignment and wetland impacts have been minimized in project design and planned construction practices. This element of standard is met.
The road alignment almost completely avoids higher-value wetlands such as palustrine scrub-shrub, palustrine emergent and estuarine emergent wetlands. 0.7 acres of mixed palustrine scrub-shrub/palustrine forested wetlands are filled in the road segment under review near Sawmill Creek between Stations 340 and 350. This wetland unit is described in the Wetlands Technical Appendix, Functions and Values Summary Sheets, as very low fish habitat and low wildlife, and moderate to high groundwater recharge/discharge and surface hydrologic control.
By contrast, the road will occupy 67.9 acres of palustrine forested wetlands, which are common in the project area. 19.7 acres of palustrine forested wetlands are displaced in the road segment between Echo Cove and Slate Creek Cove, and 48.2 acres of palustrine forested wetlands are displaced between Slate Creek Cove and Point Sherman. Approximately 6% of the forested wetlands impacted by the road alignment are rated as moderate-high for wildlife habitat. All other wetlands impacted in this area are rated moderate/low to low for wildlife habitat.
The alignment avoids seasonally flooded emergent/scrub-shrub wetlands between Slate Creek Cove and Sweeney Creek. Relocation of the highway closer to the coast along this segment would bring the alignment with 330 feet of 11 additional eagle trees, and, according to DOT, would result in disturbance of 32 acres of marine habitat. The analysis states that the avoidance of beach fringe in this area is supported by the resource agencies.
The road alignment has been designed to avoid high-value wetlands and to minimize impacts where avoidance is impossible. DOT has committed to the following practices for reduction of wetland impacts.
Referring to the loss of wetlands in the Slate Creek Cove to Point Sherman segment, where two-third’s of the wetlands losses occur, the Wetlands Technical Report states that “regional ecological diversity will not likely be substantially affected by the loss of wetlands in this area, since these wetlands are very common and widespread throughout the surrounding area and Southeast Alaska.” The Report states further that forested wetlands are typically rated moderate to low for wildlife habitat due to lack of special habitat features but can be important for groundwater recharge, discharge and lateral flow, hydrologic control and nutrient transformation/export.
DOT has proposed to mitigate the loss of forested wetlands by constructing a wildlife underpass at an identified travel corridor for Brown Bear in the peninsula between the Lace and Antler Rivers. They propose to mitigate the impacts to subtidal and intertidal habitat with a $780,000 in fee-in-lieu payment funding land acquisitions within Point Bridget State Park and in Haines, an enhancement project at Pullen Creek in Skagway and a subtidal habitat project in Berners Bay.
For the Commission’s information, two agencies, the EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have written the Corps of Engineers recommending that the Corps seek additional mitigation for the loss of palustrine wetlands. EPA has recommended an additional $440,000 fee-in-lieu payment. The USFWS has recommended additional fee-in-lieu funds or complete removal of the road from high-value brown bear habitat.
3) “Subtidal areas important to shellfish”
No subtidal or intertidal areas are dredged or filled for construction of the road between Echo Cove and Sweeney Creek. No impacts to shellfish are identified for this section of the road. Intertidal fill and subtidal disposal are planned in the road segment between Sweeney Creek and the CBJ boundary. and will be addressed when that segment of the road is submitted for review.
4) “Water important for migration…”
All anadromous fish streams will be crossed with bridges, and other streams identified as having resident fish or the potential to have resident fish in the future, will be fitted with culverts in accordance with an agreement between DOT and the Department of Fish and Game, the “Design, Permitting and Construction of Culverts for Fish Passage.” Bridges over Sawmill Creek, Boulder Creek and Antler Slough clearspan the creeks without support piers. Bridges over Slate Creek and Sweeney Creek are supported by piers placed outside the Ordinary High Water line of the creeks.
Much of the road alignment in Berners Bay is several hundred feet away from the shoreline, and sometimes over 1,000 feet away, from its beginning at Echo Cove to a point about a mile north of Sawmill Cove, where steep topography limits the inland options for road alignment.
No material will be sidecast into Berners Bay, to avoid any direct impacts to valuable herring spawning habitat along the shore.
In-water work for fill placement, dredging, or pile driving will be timed to avoid impacts to spawning and migrating fish species. In-water work at the Lace and Antler rivers will not occur between March 15 and June 15 to protect out-migrating salmonids and spawning eulachon.
These highly productive and important habitats in the study area include the herring spawning habitat in Berners Bay, the eulachon spawning channels in the Antler and Lace Rivers, the sea lion pull-out at Met Point (outside the road segment currently under review), all anadromous fish streams on the route and higher-value wetlands, each of which has been accounted for in the design of the project. The long stretch of forested wetlands covered by the road alignment between Slate Creek Cove and Point Sherman represents a wetland type that is common in the area, covering about 6,720 acres of the 11,200 acres of wetlands identified on the east side of Lynn Canal. Approximately 268 acres of the 6,720 are impacted by the road alignment.
The project complies with this element of the standard.
49.70.925 (a) Highway and airport design, construction and maintenance shall take all feasible and prudent steps to prevent alteration of water courses, wetlands and inter-tidal marshes, and aesthetic degradation.
No intertidal marshes are dredged or filled in the road segment now under review. North of Sweeney Creek, several rocky, intertidal areas will be filled where steep terrain and avalanche safety have prompted DOT to place the alignment close to the shoreline. Bridge piers will be placed 144 feet apart in the Antler and Lace Rivers and the bridges have been located upriver from their original location at the request of the National Marine Fisheries Service. Wildlife underpasses will be included in project design for the major brown bear migration corridors identified in the inland area between the Lace and Antler Rivers. Piers for the bridges will be set back 50 feet from the active river channels.
Except for the Antler and Lace Rivers, all anadromous streams are crossed by clear-span bridges with bridge abutments and rip-rap located back from the stream beds. All other streams and water courses will have culverts installed.
The erosion and sediment control plan submitted by DOT DOT states that most run-off is via creeks, streams and defined water courses, which will be preserved through culvert size and placement. Over its entire route, the road will have (2) aluminum arch (ie, bottomless) culverts, (134) 24-inch culverts, (96) 36-inch culverts, (22) 48-inch culverts, (16) 60-inch culverts and (7) 72-inch culverts. All identified water courses are culverted.
Established water courses will not be altered, although drainage patterns will be affected, as construction will require several thousand feet of existing (natural) drainage channel to be removed and re-routed through ditches and swales to nearby culverts. Culvert detail is available in DOT’s application to the Corps of Engineers and in the Erosion and Sediment Control Plan.
Runoff volumes will be preserved, although the pattern of runoff will change. Best Management Practices have been identified in the Record of Decision, in Section V of the FEIS under Proposed Mitigation and Commitments and in commitments made by DOT under the Clean Water Act, to assure that sedimentation and sediment transport is mitigated during construction.
Impacts of the alternative on wetlands is discussed on Page __. Essentially, the road alignment was designed to avoid high-value wetlands but does occupy almost 50 acres of forested wetlands between Slate Creek Cove and Comet Beach, where the alignment was moved inland to avoid eagle nest trees and the need for intertidal fill. 19.7 acres of wetlands are filled between Echo Cove and the Antler and Lace Rivers.
The road will be readily visible to air and marine traffic in Lynn Canal, and cannot be constructed without visual modification of the natural environment. Tree clearing, road cuts through steep terrain, bridge construction and road location along the coast all contribute to a change in the natural aesthetic.
No intertidal marshes are occupied by the development, nor are defined water courses altered, although overall drainage patterns will change with the development of ditches and the installation of 275 culverts to manage water flow across the highway.
Numerous practices will be employed to reduce the impacts to wetlands including reducing the fill footprint, use of roadside swales to mimic natural flow patterns, limiting tree clearing, practicing careful tree removal (ie, cut timber will not be dragged through wetlands), and others. See the discussion under Coastal Development above.
49.70.925 (f) Transportation and utility routes and facilities shall be sited inland from beaches and shorelines unless the route or facility is water-dependent or no feasible and prudent inland alternative exists to meet the public need for the route or facility.
The route is not water-dependent, however, all of the road alignment under review in this report, between Echo Cove and Sweeney Creek, is located inland from beaches and shorelines. The road alignment is closest to the shoreline in the upper reach of Berners Bay, where it is 50 feet from the shoreline in some locations.
The road follows a coastal alignment between Sweeney Creek and the CBJ boundary, where steep terrain, avalanche chutes and eagle nesting trees limit the options for road placement. Avoidance of eagle nest trees, intertidal areas, wetlands, steep terrain, animal corridors and avalanche paths cannot occur simultaneously with Alternative 2B, without a substantial modification of the project to place it on pilings and/or route it through tunnels or beneath snow sheds, with the expectation of substantial additional cost. DOT has considered tunnels and sheds but has not included them in current project designs because of their high construction and maintenance costs. For example, DOT estimated the cost of a 2,400 foot tunnel at between $27 million and $67 million dollars, with a average cost-per-foot of $19,250. The cost of a snow shed at ELC 006, the highest-rated avalanche chute in the CBJ (outside the road segment now under review) was estimated at $4.2 million dollars in the avalanche technical study.
For tunnels over 800 feet in length, maintenance and operations costs increase significantly. Tunnels over 800 feet in length need to be lighted, ventilated, and possibly manned. The capital costs would include a generator house, lighting and ventilation system, and the ongoing costs would include maintaining and operating those systems.
This will be discussed in a subsequent report on the road alignment between Sweeney Creek and the CBJ boundary when it is submitted for review.
49.70.910 (b) Development in areas having known hazards may not be approved until siting, design, and construction measures for minimizing property damage and protecting against loss of life have been provided.
There is one avalanche path in the road alignment currently under review, just north of Sawmill Cove. Aerial photography shows that the runout area of the path extends close to the road alignment but does not cross it, as evidenced by standing timber above the road alignment. It has an Avalanche Hazard index rating of 0.49. By comparison, the avalanche chute on Thane Road has a rating of about 20.
Several avalanche paths are crossed in the road segment from Sweeney Creek to the CBJ boundary and will be addressed when the alignment is finalized and DOT submits for CBJ review.
The reference to siting, design and construction in the standard seems to imply a discrete project, such as a building being developed on a lot. In this circumstance, siting, design and construction measures are the strategies most likely to succeed in protecting life and property from avalanches and landslides and other hazards. Many properties developed on South Franklin Street in recent years, for example, have been constructed with hazard abatement walls, reinforced foundation walls and other physical works to protect assets in-place, as no other approach for protecting life and property, except avoiding the site altogether, would make sense.
The purpose of the standard is minimizing property damage and protecting against loss of life. The purpose of the standard may also be met through alignment siting and design practices and active management of avalanche hazards. Siting is addressed by leaving as much room as possible between the runout area of the avalanche and the roadway. Design is addressed by elevating the roadway where it crosses the two slide paths in the CBJ with the highest Avalanche Hazard index ratings, ELC 002 and ELC 006, and by placing large culverts beneath the road to pass water and smaller debris.
The primary methods of avalanche control for roads in high risk areas are hazard reduction through physical improvements such as snow sheds and highway alignment, and risk management, through active forecasting, warnings, highway closures and explosives. Risk management is within the scope of the CBJ Code’s “design” requirement.
DOT’s avalanche experts have concluded that the siting, design and risk management approach favored by DOT will result in an overall Avalanche Hazard Index of 27.6, within the accepted AHI safety limit of 30 for highways in North America.
The standard is met.