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APL Proposes Dredging In Iliuliuk Bay; Army Corps Requests Public Comment

Courtesy Albert Burnham

Singapore-based container and shipping company American President Lines (APL), has applied to dredge a portion of Iliuliuk Bay to accommodate larger vessels and provide additional storage capacity within it's existing facility in Unalaska.

The proposed work is comprised of dredging up to nearly 43,000 cubic yards of silt, sand, gravel, and rock, and dispose of that material in a few locations: an 130-acre disposal area below the high tide line northeast of the APL dock, 0.25-acre area immediately waterward of the dock, and below the high tide like adjacent to the facility for a 1.2-acre fill pad. It also proposes to put a mooring dolphin with a catwalk to shore to accommodate larger vessels.

Jen Martin, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Kenai Field Office – the entity that will decide whether or not to issue a permit – said before approval, they must weigh all aspects of the project.

"We are neither proponents or opponents for any given project," said Martin. "We're here to do that balancing job and make sure the public interest is addressed."

She said the Corps has to do environmental and water quality assessments before approval, as well as consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in regards to the Endangered Species Act. They will also coordinate with Alaska's State Historic Preservation Office and National Park Service, since the site location is within a national landmark.

Martin also encourages members of the public to comment on this project if there are concerns about the impacts of the proposed activity that the Corps might not be aware of.

"Every project is different, but we do have a general process that remains the same," said Martin. "So we go through the application, we put out a public notice, we gather all the comments we receive from other agencies, the public, and anyone who would like to comment on that, and provide them to the applicant. Then we give them a chance to address those comments, and sometimes the project stays exactly the same, and sometimes the project changes as a result of some of the comments we've received."

Martin said a permit will likely be granted, unless the proposal is found to be contrary to the public interest or fails to comply with EPA guidelines.  

Community member Suzi Golodoff said she's concerned about the project. While the Corps has said sediments to be disposed of offshore have been sampled and determined to be suitable for disposal, she doesn't think the studies the agency conducts are sufficient. She has concerns that there are contaminants from WWII fuel tanks that will be dredged up, and that material will be dumped on productive marine habitat.

"I guess my main concern is knowing there's likely to be some contaminated material in there, because it's down slope of all the fuel tanks," said Golodoff. "So I'm a little concerned about all that material being dredged up and seeing what kind of muck comes up out of there —old oil, old stuff from the tank farms."

The project area is also known habitat for a number of species, like the Steller sea lion, northern sea otter, and the federally-endangered Short-tailed Albatross, which the Corps said won't be impacted. But Golodoff is still concerned. 

"I know that we're a fishing town," said Golodoff. "We're a port more than anything and we need good dock space and deep harbors. But at the same time we're a community. And if we wanted to just live in a port, we could live in Seattle or Los Angeles or Hong Kong or something, but we don't. We live in the Aleutians and it's a privilege to be surrounded by all this wildlife. We love seeing the birds and the otters and all that, but we have to remember that we've got to help them take care of their home."

The deadline to submit public comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is Friday, Dec. 20.

Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
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