Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Fish habitat regulations a concern for advisory committee

 


Members of the Upper Lynn Canal Fish and Game Advisory Committee expressed support for more public notification of work impacting salmon habitat following a presentation by a retired state biologist at the group’s meeting March 30.

Working in a salmon stream requires the Department of Fish and Game to issue a special permit, called a “Title 16” permit, but a public notification requirement of such permits went away when Alaska’s Coastal Zone Management Program was discontinued years ago, said Ben Kirkpatrick, a retired Department of Fish and Game habitat biologist.

Between five and 10 Title 16 permits are issued for projects around Haines each year, according to Fish and Game.

Committee members Ryan Cook and Randy Jackson both expressed support for notification. A bill to require public notification recently was introduced in the Alaska House of Representatives.

During the Title 16 process, Fish and Game has authority to put restrictions on permits for working in salmon streams, and to require mitigation for “unavoidable impacts,” but the agency hasn’t been using its authority to do that, Kirkpatrick said.

“Fish and Game isn’t asking for mitigation or only for the bare minimum. This is the place to ask for that,” Kirkpatrick said, specifically referencing the replacement of the Klehini River bridge.

Fish and Game could have required work done last summer and fall to occur during low water later in the year, Kirkpatrick said. “It’s almost unconscionable not to have some kind of restrictions on something like that… They dropped a lot of gravel into the river… It’s a pretty significant structure.”

In an interview, Jackie Timothy, regional supervisor for the Habitat Division of the state Department of Fish and Game, said mitigation wasn’t required on the bridge project, and that fish passage already is better than before construction.

“Basically they’re putting in a bridge that’s going to be wider than the old bridge and it’s going to make the restriction at that pinch point less of a restriction,” Timothy said. “We didn’t see that there needed to be any mitigation. They were able to afford fish passage during all phases of construction. We documented the fish passage exactly as it had been designed.”

Timothy added that the old bridge didn’t meet state Department of Transportation standards and any large equipment had to cross through the river, “which was a much bigger impact.”

Timothy said she didn’t know how public input on a Title 16 permit would be helpful, as early review includes “things you have to be a biologist or engineer to understand.”

Statements at the March 30 meeting suggested Fish and Game could withhold recommendations of biologists during the Title 16 process. But Kate Kanouse, Fish and Game’s habitat biologist for northern Southeast, said those documents would be made available.

“If anyone asks us for it, we would certainly provide it,” Kanouse said this week.

Committee member Jackson said he was concerned about impacts on fish from large projects like the Klehini River bridge. “If this is another thing that makes another 100,000 fish not show up, that’s (a concern).”

Because the bridge project involved federal funds, it triggered a federal National Environmental Policy Act review. Timothy said that review provided multiple opportunities for the public to comment.

“(The public has) already had years to give their input on the environmental aspect of this,” Timothy said.

Kirkpatrick said some mitigation work is being done on the Haines Highway expansion project between 3 Mile and 25 Mile, although he was critical of plans by the state to count culvert replacement as mitigation. “It’s just way short to the impacts that are happening to a place like the eagle preserve, where there is so much fish habitat.”

A year ago, Kirkpatrick pushed for the state Department of Transportation to include “engineered log jams” adjacent to new sections of highway. The structures are aimed at slowing currents and building shelter for migrating fish.

The state plans to use log jams, but at a level Kirkpatrick described as half-hearted. He said the state has “drawn in” some log jams but they’re “not in good places” and “only guaranteed for five years.” “They’re not as robust as they should be. Basically, they’re piling some wood outside the rip rap.”

 
 

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