What will the costs of the Port Expansion be to the Ship Creek Salmon Fishery and Cook Inlet Beluga Whales?

Questions about the Port of Anchorage Expansion Project

Environmental Questions

Severe silting at the north berth of the dock due to current-altering construction has created even more cost and potential for environmental damage. What will the costs be to the Ship Creek Salmon Fishery and Cook Inlet Beluga Whales?

Cook Inlet at low tideMay 1999
Anchorage Daily News reports Environmental groups demand U.S. Army Corps of Engineers halt dredging in Cook Inlet citing declining population of beluga whales. Native subsistence hunting blamed for beluga decline as Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, tries to rush a provision into law that would make subsistence hunting of the whales illegal without a co-management agreement between hunters and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

September 2005
Anchorage Daily News Commentary author, Jan Konigsberg, cites concerns 8,800 foot long sheet pile dock, extending more than 400 feet from shore, and will obliterate another 135 acres of intertidal and subtidal habitat and greatly impact Ship Creek salmon but also to juvenile salmon from other Anchorage and the Mat-Su streams. Author recommends Corps suspend further permitting until impact studies are complete and completed and until a mitigation plan has been developed with public involvement.http://docs.newsbank.com

February 2006
Associated Press reports the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is embarking on a status review to determine if the belugas need the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act. A listing was rejected in 2000 because then it was believed that overharvesting was to blame. Scientists also will look at development around the inlet, including the expansion of the Port of Anchorage. Waste discharges will be considered, as well as the impact of oil and gas development.http://docs.newsbank.com

April 2006
Anchorage Daily News reports expansion plans at the Port of Anchorage could threaten the popular Ship Creek salmon fishery and the already badly depleted stock of Cook Inlet beluga whales, three federal agencies say. The National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the EPA recommend holding up permits for work set to begin next year until more thorough analyses of its effects on Knik Arm are completed. The port should also consider alternative, less harmful designs for a new 1.7-mile-long dock, the agencies say. "It's a good project, a necessary project, and we don't plan on hurting anything," Sheffield said.

The environmental agencies say port planners haven't considered legally required alternative dock designs that would have less effect on fish and whales. Instead of the long, solid-wall dock planned by the port and its consultants, the agencies say one partially supported by pilings would reduce the amount of fill and allow fish to continue using the shallow, intertidal habitat, even if it is directly under the newly expanded port. All three agencies said the Corps of Engineers also should require the port to do better evaluations of the effects of storm and drain runoff, and the EPA says the port needs to do more sampling for contaminants that may be buried in areas to be dredged or on port grounds that will be disturbed by construction.

October 2006
Anchorage Daily News reports Cook Inlet's white whales still declining; U.S. again considers endangered status. Seven years after a virtual halt to Native subsistence hunts was thought to have put a depleted stock of Cook Inlet beluga whales on a path to recovery, marine mammal scientists counting the bright white whales from the air last summer spotted fewer than ever.

Mayor Mark Begich cited concern an endangered species listing could delay a major expansion under way at the Port of Anchorage. Already, three federal agencies have asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to hold up permits for a new dock until more analysis of its effects on Ship Creek salmon is done.

Advocates of stronger protection for the whales say those fears are overstated. Listing a species as endangered doesn't apply brakes to most development, said Bob Shavelson of Cook Inletkeeper, one of the organizations petitioning for the listing. It means federal agencies must consult with NMFS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on projects that may affect the animals. In almost all cases, the agencies find ways for projects to proceed without harming the animals listed, Shavelson said, citing a 1992 General Accounting Office report to Congress.http://docs.newsbank.com

March 2008
Small Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Port of Anchorage Marine Terminal Redevelopment Project - NMFS received application from Port of Anchorage to take small numbers of marine mammals, by Level B harassment, incidental to the 5-year Phase II portion of the Marine Terminal Redevelopment Project (herein after "Project") at the Port, Anchorage, Alaska. Species which could be potentially taken from Port construction include the beluga whale, harbor seal, harbor porpoise, and killer whale. NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue a 1-year incidental harassment authorization (IHA) for the 2008 construction season (April-October) and its intent to promulgate regulations in 2009 governing the take of marine mammals over a 5-year period incidental to the activities described herein.

March 2008
Anchorage Daily News reports Sheffield amassing political support for port expansion with cost estimates up to $700 million, more than doubling its land mass. Biologists fear harm to salmon and beluga whales; engineers cite concerns of seismic instability; environmental and neighborhood concerns continue.

The Associated Press reports conservation groups filed a request Wednesday to challenge the state in its lawsuit seeking to overturn the listing of beluga whales off Alaska's largest city as endangered. The groups, including Defenders of Wildlife and Natural Resources Defense Council, are seeking to uphold the Endangered Species Act listing of a few hundred beluga whales in Cook Inlet. A half-dozen groups filed their request in federal court in Washington, D.C., the same court where the state filed its lawsuit in June.http://docs.newsbank.com

Photo Credit:Roman Krochuk - Fotolia.com

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