Haines Highway rebuild plan hits opposition
About 50 residents turned out Monday for a meeting on Haines Highway improvements, many speaking against the state’s enviromental assessment and seeking a more thorough analysis of impacts to fish and wildlife.
About 20 people testified, most of them critical of the $100 million Department of Transportation project, which will widen the roadway, straighten curves, and address slide issues from Mile 3.5 to 25.3.
Concern about negative impacts to fisheries stemmed primarily from the project’s intended use of 23.6 acres of fill in wetlands and 8.3 acres of fill in the Chilkat River and its tributaries. DOT’s failure to identify bald eagle roosting and feeding trees in the agency’s environmental assessment (EA) also aroused the ire of residents and caused them to demand an environmental impact statement (EIS), a more comprehensive document.
Resident Peter Goll called the environmental assessment “woefully inadequate” and “structurally incomplete.” Goll said the Haines Highway and Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve are “not (places) you go and muck around without knowing what you’re doing.”
Some residents also chastised the department for not paying closer attention to the project’s possible damage to cultural artifacts and resources, and urged closer examination of the possible disruption of Native subsistence areas.
Others who spoke included Katya Kirsch, Paul Swift, Bart Henderson, Nancy Berland, Eric Holle, Mario Benassi, Tim Shields, Sherrie Goll, Rob Goldberg, Chuck Smythe, George Figdor, Carol Tuynman, Ben Kirkpatrick, George Campbell, Dan Egolf, Lynette Campbell and Irene Alexakos.
In a Wednesday interview, project manager Greg Lockwood said he still feels the scope of the project doesn’t warrant conducting an EIS.
“We feel like we’re strongly in the EA category and unless our funding partners – the Federal Highway Administration – disagrees with that, we feel comfortable that an EA is an appropriate document for this project,” Lockwood said.
Many residents also requested an extended comment period, which Lockwood said might be possible. “We’re not committing to extending it right now, but we’re considering it,” he said.
Haines Borough manager Mark Earnest said he supports the improvements, as “major failures are developing” on the roadway. Earnest said DOT has had extensive communications with other agencies and has done its homework on the project.
“It’s not like you have DOT and engineers sitting in some isolated room just coming up with the design and saying, ‘That’s it,’” he said.
DOT also conducted a public meeting in Klukwan.
The next section of the highway set for construction is Mile 3.5 to 12 and may begin as soon as next summer.
The comment period is open until Aug. 15. Residents can send comments to James W. Scholl, environmental impact analyst, at email@example.com or contact Alex Viteri, Southeast region engineer at firstname.lastname@example.org.