PUBLISHED: 5:04 PM on Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Lemon Creek eyed for gravel extraction
A state permit for gravel extraction has been approved to mine gravel from Lemon Creek, an urban stream within Juneau. The allocated project is located in a depositional area of the river below a transition zone, about half a mile above Glacier Hwy.

Approximately 200,000 cubic yards of sand and gravel, up to 10-feet deep, from about 9.55 acres of privately owned streambed for dredging was approved for applicant Ralph Horecny.

Primarily used for Juneau area development project, Lemon Creek has functioned as a periodic source of gravel, and mined extensively by property owner, Horecny. The site was last mined in the 1980s.

Since 1990, Lemon Creek has appeared on Alaska's list of impaired waterbodies, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. Three components are responsible for the creek's impaired status including: sediment, turbidity and habitat modification.

In cooperation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sponsored a study of Lemon Creek sediment transport, fish habitat, hydrology and fluvial geomorphology.

Working with Inter-Fluve, Inc. a study contractor, recommendations included maintenance mining the length of lower Lemon Creek as mitigation over a long-term period.

Sources state that gravel has continued to accumulate over time from eroding banks upstream.

The analysis recommends mining in the Lemon Creek zone, with appropriate habitat mitigation, as one of three measures to reduce flood potential. The other two measures are removal of the Juneau Redi-Mix bridge, which has been completed, and stabilization of exposed and eroding banks, according to City and Borough of Juneau's Web site.

"The USFWS provides recommendations to the Corps of Engineers on how to best avoid, minimize, restore or compensate for development impacts to jurisdictional wetlands," said Neil Stichert, Habitat Restoration and Coastal Program Biologist, of USFWS.

"We've worked with the applicant and other agencies such as DNR, DEC, CBJ, and NOAA for the past year to iteratively develop a better plan than originally proposed."

The cons of the current proposal are it lacks a detailed reclamation plan, and will not alleviate any potential flood risks at the Old Glacier Highway bridge, he said.

"The proposal asks to extract 200,000 cubic yards (10,000 dumptruck loads) of gravel from the bed of a catalogued salmon stream. This is a substantial in-channel project proposal," Stichert said.

"Lemon Creek provides habitat for anadromous fish. Dolly Varden char may be found in the area year-round. Chum fry and coho smolts migrate downstream from March through May," said acting deputy commissioner Edmund Fogels in a State document addressed to permittee Ralph S. Horecny.

"The best chum spawning habitat in Lemon Creek occurs in the reach of stream proposed for mining. To ensure proper protection of anadromous fish habitat, especially for the small run of chum salmon in this system that will experience the greatest impact form this activity, it is important that spawning habitat be maintained," he said.

To avoid disruption chum salmon hatching and outmigration period, Horecny has arranged for mining to alternate between the middle and sides of Lemon Creek each fish year from May 16 through March 14. No mining will be allowed during the time period March 15 through May 15.

"This design will minimize sedimentation into the river by keeping mining activities in the dry portion of the streambed, separated form the flowing waters of Lemon Creek," Fogels said.

In August 2007, we counted 808 chum salmon and over 120 spawning beds in the area proposed to be mined, said Stitchert.

"Avoiding these areas and leaving enough gravel and wood in the creek to form bars, riffles, and side-channels for future fish use is important," he said.

USFWS recommends development of a reclamation plan to replace some of the fish habitat disturbed by the mining; timing windows to minimize in-water work; and removing gravel from exposed gravel bars rather than the wetted channel, Stichert said.

DEC reports that primary pollutant sources to Lemon Creek are identified in the water quality assessment as resulting from urban runoff and gravel mining. "The assessment suggest that sedimentation has occurred as a result of non-point pollution runoff from gravel mining, road development and maintenance, and material stockpiling," sources state.

Within the project description, based upon State specifications, the Department of Natural Resources, found the project to be consistent with the Standards of the Alaska Coastal Management Program, issued in July 2007.

Permit recommendations include berms to divert the river away from the active mining location or to help train the river into new channels.

Horecny has also requested a short-term variance associated with a request for Clean Water Act certification for a dredge and fill permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The requested variance from Alaska's water quality standards would allow for operation in temporary turbidity and sedimentation in excess of that allowed by the water quality standards for an annual total of 18 days during a 105 day operation period each year for possibly the next five years, according to a statement from DEC, division of water, wastewater discharge authorization program.

Dollar wise, the mining will potentially be profitable if sold. Juneau company, Aggpro, which sells aggregate products and ready mixed concrete, does not mine material at the Lemon Creek site. Mining will only occur if there was a flooding emergency, said employee Mackenzie Jenson, of Aggpro.

"For unprocessed material from the sand and gravel pit behind Costco, Aggpro sells it at $12.50 per ton," she said.

With about 300,000 tons of sand and gravel product, the profit could approximately be $3.75 million dollars.

Concerning the question whether the development substantially will decrease the value of or be out of harmony with property in the neighboring area, CBJ community development director Dale Pernula said "no," according to the CBJ Web site.

"Heavy equipment operating in the stream will generate substantial noise for properties facing the creek. However hours of operation shall be reduced on Saturdays in compliance with regulations regarding 'Disturbing the Peace.' Traffic flow will blend in with existing industrial traffic on main roads and will not go through residential areas. The mining development will benefit surrounding properties by reducing the flood hazard, while extensive project conditions are in place to prevent damage to banks of the properties adjacent to the creek," he said.

Concerns have been raised pertaining to neighborhood noise disruption.

"I can't imagine that it would be an issue; it's an excavator and not a huge mine, it (would) be digging material and loading it into a truck," said Horecny's representative Jan Van Dort.

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