The $37 million Haines Highway project plans to widen the paved highway to 36 feet and straighten selected curves to a 55 mph design speed where possible. The Haines Highway project Environmental Assessment (EA) is currently under revision by the Alaska Department of Transportation (DOT) due to the large volume of comments recieved during the public comment period. The National Marine Fisheries Service “NMFS asserted that adverse effects to (essential fish habitat) associated with the Haines Highway project will be substantial and permanent". NMFS also disagreed with DOT’s determination that "Avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures would offset impacts to (essential fish habitat) and would not be adverse”. A revised plan is set to be released in the Spring of 2014.
The project is adjacent to or inside the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, with many impacts to essential salmon and bald eagle habitat. While LCC supports safety improvements, DOT is being urged to use the most environmentally responsible construction practices. LCC has requested that DOT spend mitigation funds in the Chilkat Valley and incorporate the use of large wood in the river to provide rearing habitat for chinook salmon. LCC is also asking for further studies regarding eagle perching and roosting trees before DOT cuts more trees within the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.
The 2013 Environmental Assessment (EA) mentioned the following impacts:
· Filling 8.5 acres (14,230 lineal feet /2.7 miles) along Chilkat River banks.
· Impacting 22 anadromous (salmon) tributaries that flow into the Chilkat River.
· Re-aligning 8 of those tributaries.
· Filling 12.5 acres of high-value wetlands that provide fish passage and rearing habitat, cycle nutrients, and help control flooding.
· DOT provide a range of alternatives with a smaller footprint in essential eagle and salmon habitat. There are currently only two alternatives: do nothing, or build as proposed.
· DOT supplement the EA or do a more thorough Environmental Impact Study (EIS) with information on eagle roosting trees and effectiveness of salmon habitat mitigation.
· Support use of engineered logjams - successfully used in Klukwan – rather than riprap, which makes poor salmon habitat.
· Keep roadbed in current location between miles 19 and 22 and don’t cut down any eagle roosting trees in this critical habitat area.
· The lack of “need” to increase the road footprint into salmon and eagle habitat. The EA states the HainesHighway is a low volume road with a low accident rate.
· A faster, less scenic road would be at odds with Haines Highway National Scenic Byway designation and compromise the values for which the Preserve was established.
The EA is deficient in that it does not consider the following:
· Up to 98% of the eagles congregate on Council Grounds between October and January. Cottonwood trees between miles 19 and 22 are critical eagle roosting trees. There is no analysis of location or number of trees that would be cut along the road corridor.
· There is no analysis of impacts of past riprap fill of riverbanks.
· There is no analysis about what level of disturbance to eagles and eagle and salmon habitat is acceptable in the Preserve.