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Juneau Group Comments: the Juneau Access Improvement Project’s ‘Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement’

Mark Rorick, Chair Juneau Group of the Sierra Club

 

 

 

 To:                                                                                                                             February 20th, 2012

Alaska Department of Transportation &

Public Facilities, Southeast Alaska Region

Post Office Box 112506

Juneau, Alaska   99811-2506

juneauaccess@alaska.gov Via e-mail and US Postal Service

 

Attention: Mr. Reuben Yost, Project Manager

 

                                              Re: Lynn Canal Transportation Access Improvements

 

Dear Mr. Yost:

 

  On behalf of the Juneau Group of the Sierra Club and the Alaska Chapter of the Sierra Club, I am submitting scoping comments on the Juneau Access Improvement Project’s court mandated ‘Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement’. The Juneau Access Improvement Project will sometimes be referred to as JAIP.

 

      The Sierra Club is a national grassroots conservation organization with approximately 750,000 members. Founded on May 28th 1892 by John Muir, the Sierra Club’s involvement in S.E. Alaska conservation issues spans the entire history of the ‘Club’ and continues today. In the late 1960’s the Alaska Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Juneau Group of the Sierra Club (JGSC) were incorporated under the National Sierra Club. The Alaska Chapter of the Sierra Club has approximately 1,500 members with about 450 of them residing in S.E. Alaska under the banner of JGSC. Many of our members have visited and enjoyed the lands affected by the project. The Sierra Club’s mission of “Exploring, Enjoying, and Protecting the Planet” is directly related to the Juneau Access Project.

 

Issues that need to be dealt with for all alternatives

 

      Because of the time between that issuing of the 2006 FEIS and now, many issues including ones not                              noted in the scoping request need an up-dated analysis.

 

 1) First, a new, complete, and independent study of the costs of building the roads needs to be done. This should include a geo-tech cost study for the full length of any road used in any alternative. It is well known that only a partial geo-tech cost study was done for the Lynn Canal eastside road alternative for the 2006 FEIS. In DOT’s submission for scoping comments it was noted that geo-tech studies are being done, but there was no information on who is doing the analysis, whether it is DOT or a contracted business, or if the study is for the whole project. In 2006 the State of AK commissioned a geo-tech study to be done by Golder Associates Inc. Golder Associates Inc. identified numerous rock fall areas, mega boulders that would have to be blasted to be removed, and numerous other cost and safety hazards along the 22 miles actually studied of 60 miles of the proposed route going from Auke Bay Juneau to the Katzehin River Delta. Golder Associates Inc. had their contact stopped after only analyzing approximately one 3rd of the road route. This was phase 1 of zone 4, going from Independence Creek to the Katzehin River Delta.

It is also known that the Golder Associates’ engineers had a gag order on them that did not allow any contracted engineer to say anything about what they had found during their studies, or what they thought about it, without DOT approval. The Golder Associates Inc. report for the phase 1 zone 4 studies is attached and it should be noted that it identified numerous cost and safety issues that had not been identified before the State of AK commissioned the study. Also, the results of the partial study were not fully incorporated into the 2006 FEIS. The ability of DOT to do accurate cost study is very much in question based on past studies.

 In 2005 DOT estimated a 23-mile pioneer gravel road with temporary bridges would cost $30 million. The lowest bid came in at $51.5 million. This pioneer road was a piece of the Juneau Access Project that was going to be paid for by the State. The Sierra Club suggests that Golder Associates Inc., or a similar independent company, be contracted to do a new and complete geo-tech analysis of all road segments, in all alternatives, and that no gag orders be put into any contract for any company that is or will be doing the geo-tech analysis. Using Golder Associates Inc. would be more economically efficient as they have already been involved.

      a) The costs of using the roads must be compared with the costs of using an improved ferry service and all the other marine option alternatives. Both from the consumers stand point, and from the systems stand point. A full accounting needs to be done. Such as a tariff on the roads which would impact both the system and the user. And the costs of fuels for boats, monohulls, shuttles, and fast ferries. The costs of fuel for trucks, cars, and busses. The fee’s for using a ferry with or without a car or truck. The cost of a taxi or bus to get from the Katzehin Delta to Juneau. And the money spent by ferry users on board for all the various amenities for sale, on the ferries, which impacts both the users and the system.

 

 2) An updated analysis on the effects of all alternatives on aquatic resources needs to be done with consultation with all appropriate resource agencies. Current population data of salmon, eulachon, all marine mammals, and other aquatic dependent species, including terrestrial species, needs to be part of the analysis. Population data should include updates on both location and numbers so that the effects of any road routes can be scientifically analyzed by the best resource agency biologists. And as known, Alt 2b, the Lynn Canal eastside road, will cross designated critical habitat for Steller sea lions. The Sierra Club requests that the FHWA and DOT&PF initiate an early consultation with the NMFS, the USFWS, and the ADFG to address fully the impacts from all alternatives on all effected wildlife.

The Sierra Club requests that all memos and notes of all consultations be made public in a way that is easily accessible by the public, not buried in un-known sub-folders on a disc that has to be asked for. Note that from any consultation with Federal Agencies, the documents from such consultations come under the new administrative guidelines of the ‘Freedom of Information Act’.

       a) American Bald Eagles:  From 2005-2006 the places and numbers of bald eagle nests have changed and a new survey needs to be done before the DSIES is published. Impacts on eagle nesting need to be clearly defined in the SIES, and mitigation measures need to be put into place. 

 

 3) Safety issues. First and very important, safety was basically only a cost issue in the ‘2006’ FEIS (and therefore needs to be updated for that reason and others), it was not part of the ‘Purpose and Need’ in the EIS process, though it had been in the original ‘Juneau Access Improvement Project’s’ EIS. This should be remedied in the current SEIS so that the focus of the project includes safety as a priority issue. Please note that DOT Commissioner Luiken said in a Joint Transportation Committee DOT hearing that the “Four E’s of safety in all DOT projects, be them construction or maintenance, are “education, enforcement, engineering, and emergency services.” And that one of the four goals stated for the 2008 Southeast Alaska Transportation Plan is to “maintain or improve modal safety.” Prioritizing safety becomes more important when consideration is done for the possibilities of harm or death, gods or goddesses forbid, to the students traveling by bus during the winter on the eastside road. To leave safety out of the Purpose and Need of the project seems to contradict Commissioner Luiken’s statement to our State Legislators, and the goals of the Southeast Alaska Transportation Plan.

In regards to updates, all possible safety hazards along the road routes need to be identified, including summer rock slides, and the safety of doing the road construction also. Hazards need to be analyzed for the cost of the road maintenance related to them, such as avalanche snow removal, de-icing the roads, avalanche mitigation, and rock slide removal. DOT needs to analyze when such maintenance and mitigation actions will not be able to be done because of weather conditions, and tie it to the effect on road closures because of the un-ability to keep the roads safe. And DOT needs to update and accurately analyze the cost of creating avalanche barriers or tunnels, and the cost and effectiveness of avalanche mitigation. DOT also needs an up-dated estimate of the time that any hazards may close a road and this is related not only to reliability but to safety also. Emergency services such as the access to hospitals, the ability to provide ambulance access along road routes, and the ability to provide policing are all issues directly related to safety and reliability. All of these issues need to be up dated because of changing conditions, such as the amount of policing available, the budgets for winter road maintenance, and other changing conditions, and not just referred to as being dealt with in past NEPA work.

When this is done a new comparison of roads safety and reliability to the safety and reliability of ferry services needs to be done. It should be noted in a comparison of alternatives that in the 50 years of contiguous ferry service in Lynn Canal not a single person has lost their life by traveling in ferries. It is extremely unlikely that this will be the case for the road projects in the SEIS.

 

 4) Travel Demand and Delay. DOT in the past has basically used an assumption that if a road to connect Juneau to the continental highway system is built it will result in a huge increase in travel demand, and that therefore there is a backlog of travel demand waiting to be dealt with, and that the current marine service cannot deal with it. This assumption is very dicey, un-proved, and is essentially un-provable. Any assumption that a high percentage of travelers on the Alaska Highway, who are now mostly going to central and north Alaska, will turn south and go to Juneau is highly suspect. An updated study of the expected numbers of travelers using the road alternatives for access to Juneau needs to be done. Such as how many travelers will really turn south from the Alaska Highway at Haines Junction to get to Haines, or really turn south from Whitehorse BC Canada to get to Skagway and take a shuttle ferry to Haines. And then get on a shuttle ferry at Haines to cross Lynn Canal to get to a ferry terminal, then get off the shuttle ferry, and then head south to Juneau on their or someone else’s car, or on a bus, or on a taxi. The cost and time of doing such a thing makes DOT’s assumption that a lot of travelers will do it preposterous. DOT’s travel demand assumptions are basically a build it and they will come assumption.

 An updated accurate study of time delay for these travelers using the Lynn Canal Eastside road needs to be done , i. e., waiting for a friend with a car to help them get to and from a ferry terminal, waiting for the ferry to arrive and depart,  and boarding the ferry and getting off it, and waiting for a bus or taxi to take them to Juneau if they do not have car, all of these scenarios need to be in the mix when calculating travel demand and the time it takes to get from the Alaska Highway to Juneau, from Haines to Juneau, from Skagway to Juneau, and back and forth. Then a comparison needs to done with the simplicity and reliability of the current Marine Highway System and the other no road alternatives in the SEIS.

      a) Reliability is directly related to demand and time of travel. Road closings and winter road conditions have to be in the mix, and not only on the roads being proposed to be built in the SEIS. There are problems related to traveling in winter on the road from Anchorage to Haines also. This relates to the issue of whether the road alternatives really work better than flying to get Alaska citizens access to the state capital when the legislature is in session.

 

5) Tongass Forest Management Plans. In DOT’s request for scoping comments it was said that an up-date is needed for the Juneau Access Improvement Project because the new 2008 Tongass Management Plan was not in place during the past NEPA process. This was related to roads going through old growth reserves. Going through an old growth reserve is only allowed or permitted, by the Forest Service, and only if there is no other practical feasible alternative available. However, more things have changed in regards to forest plans than just the 2008 plan, the National Roadless Rule now applies to the Tongass National Forest. It changes the 2008 Tongass Management Plan and DOT needs to deal with this change in the SEIS also. And saying that waiting for another court decision to come out will not be adequate. The rule is in place now. One change is, that under the roadless rule the approval for a road though an IRA needs approval from the Secretary of Agriculture or someone that is delegated by the Secretary to make the decision. And the responsible official bases his or hers decision on there being no practical alternative, including a practicable marine alternative. And because the roadless rule is now in place a full evaluation of the effects of alternatives on roadless areas values and their  unique characteristics needs to be done. Impacts addressed should include:

·                                              Loss of non-motorized recreation opportunities

·                                              Loss of natural soundscape and view shed

·                                              Displaced and poached wildlife

·                                              Run-off pollution impacts to fish habitat and fish runs

·                                              Increased vectors for invasive species

·                                              Increased OHV impacts

·                                              Increased litter

 

Funding of the Project

 

Full funding for any road alternative needs to be identified and to be certain before any road building goes forward. This issue is directly related to having an independent cost analysis done for the whole project, not one that is stopped one third of the way through as the Golder Associates Inc. report was. Note, because the cost of building roads has gone up, identifying the funding sources for the roads is also an issue that needs up dating in the SEIS. The Juneau Access Improvement Project is a mega project in that even the lowest cost estimate says it will cost more than a half of a billion dollars. In regards to a mega project the Federal Highway Administration has said that “The State should take such action as is necessary to identify total costs and schedules for all projects under development and assure that strategies for funding are in place to assure timely advancement of major projects beyond the time frame of the Draft STIP.” And “projects over $500 million require a project management plan and financial plan to be approved by the Federal Highway Administration.” And “ we expect proactive measures will be implemented to insure that projects ….can be funded.” Full letter to ADOT&PF is attached.  

In the past DOT has said that they have the funding for just a part of the east side road, then they can build that piece of the road, and then they can find the money for another piece of the road, apparently from an un-clear, un-identified future resource. This piece by piece funding of a mega project is, simply put, un-acceptable. Depending on unidentified resources to finish a project can easily result in a failed project, and this is not compatible with the directive from the Federal Highway Administration. In 2007, in response to a request from an Alaska State Senator, DOT said 112 million dollars of funding for the estimated full cost of 273 million dollars had not been found for the East Lynn Canal road alternative (letter to Senator Albert Kookesh is attached). To date the DOT estimated cost has doubled and no additional funding has been appropriated for the construction of the any of the roads in the JAIP.

      a) In speeches to Alaska’s legislators the Alaskan delegation has said repeatedly that Alaska should not look for the federal funding they have depended on in the past.  Budgets are being cut for all federal agencies and congress is being very conservative when dealing with the debt crisis. DOT needs to take this into account when or if they are thinking they can get funding for an east or west side road.

      b) If it is clearly the intent, now, of DOT building a Lynn Canal Eastside road connection to the Skagway Klondike Highway by going from the Katzehin Delta ferry terminal along the coast towards Skagway and then up to and through the Dewey Lakes Recreation area, that is above the town of Skagway, and then hooking down to connect with the Klondike highway north of town of Skagway, then this should be noted in the SEIS. Also, identifying the funding for the road extension, getting a cost estimate of the road extension should be in the SEIS. And it should be analyzed as foreseeable future cumulative impacts under the requirements of NEPA. This proposal was put out by DOT in early February 2012 at a meeting in Vancouver, BC. ADOT&PF officials attending were Patrick Kemp, Deputy Commissioner of DOT, Jeff Ottesen, Director of Program Development, Mike Vigue, Chief of Capital Program Planning, Joseph Buck, Special Assistant to the Commissioner, and Mark Davis, Deputy Director Investment Finance & Analysis, AIDEA.

Improved Ferry Service and Range of Alternatives

 

1) Alternative 1b, the ‘Improved Ferry Service Alterative’ needs to be improved. The alternative  needs to meet the demands of not only the Lynn Canal travelers, but should be one that does not cannibalize other Southeast Alaska ferry services. There are probable ways to use existing ships, and ones being made, that would not do such a thing. Existing legacy boats can become Lynn Canal day boats that operate during the peak summer marine travel time so as to not take a fast ferry out of service on the Sitka route. One legacy boat could provide twice a day sailing from Juneau to Haines or Skagway. Two legacy boats at the peak of travel would double this accommodation. Other vessel deployment options need to be explored and what is called a “comprehensive vessel operation matrix” should be made. It would provide a base to make a combined single marine service alternative that for all of Southeast Alaska is safe and reliable. Note that building one or two more Alaska Class Ferries, and one is already being built, should also be considered in a comprehensive vessel operation matrix. And to lower operating costs new ferries might run on biodiesel. This should be a consideration when creating a holistic marine service system for Southeast Alaska.

 

a) The other marine and road alternatives when combined with Alternative 1b narrow the range of alternatives in such a way that a whole Southeast Alaska single marine alternative is basically hidden behind a screen. It should be noted that options, Alt 3, Modified Alt 3, 4A, 4B, 4C, and 4D, basically the same as in the SEIS and the past EIS, did not meet the purpose and need requirements under the Army Corp of Engineer’s regulations and were considered to be not practicable for logistic and technical reasons.  Some of the reasons were the ability to make a terminal to handle the size and numbers of boats at the places identified in the alternatives, the logistics of getting to and from the added ferry terminals (and their costs), and that the alternatives would not meet at least one of the purpose and needs of the project, decreasing travel time. These alternatives are still unviable alternatives. The Sierra Club suggests that any unviable alternatives be removed and a comprehensive vessel operation matrix alternative be made, analyzed, and put into the SEIS.  

                        Thank you for considering the Sierra Club’s comments

                        Sincerely;

 

      Mark Rorick, Chair Juneau Group of the Sierra Club

     1055 Mendenhall Peninsula Rd. Juneau AK, 99801

     907-789-5472 mprorick@alaska.net

 

     Pamela Brodie, President, AK Chapter of the Sierra Club

     P.O. Box 1139, Homer AK 99603-1139,

     907-235-3855 pbrodie@gci.net

 

     Copy: Tim Haugh, Environmental Program Manager

            FHWA Alaska Division, P.O. Box 21648

            Juneau, Alaska 99802–1648 (w/enclosures)    

            Via e-mail: Tim.Haugh@dot.gov

 

      Attachments:

 

1) Golder Associates Inc. report

 

2) Memo from FHWA Alaska Division to ADOT&PF

 

3) Letter from ADOT&PF to Senator Kookesh

 

  • Tongass National Forest

     
     

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