By Rick Smeriglio for SCN – The public comment period for City of Seward’s permit application to dredge and discharge at Seward Marine Industrial Center closed in late April. Five parties commented. According to Public Affairs Specialist Curt Bieberdorf of the Corps of Engineers, the agency that would issue the permit, the Corps has the application under review and has no specific timetable for issuance or denial. City of Seward, through its agent R&M Consultants of Anchorage, submitted it application on February 19 of this year. According to Bieberdorf, the Corps has forwarded the five comments to city of Seward for its response. Before issuing a permit, the Corps must consult with National Marine Fisheries Service to determine what effect, if any, the dredging might have on threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. Humpback whales and Stellar sea lions (both listed under the Act) occur in the project area.
The city plans to expand SMIC require construction of a breakwater and dredging inside the area enclosed by the breakwater. Some dredging has already occurred in the boat basin near the travel lift and ship lift at SMIC. The original 1981 permit that allowed dredging at SMIC has had 12 modifications over the years. The permit modification currently sought by City of Seward would allow dredging of 206,000 cubic yards of material and discharging the same material into Resurrection Bay offshore of SMIC. The roughly 28-acre disposal area lies about one-half mile southwest and offshore of the existing breakwater at SMIC. City of Seward has secured State funding to begin the project.
In addition to a federal Corps of Engineer’s permit, City of Seward must secure certification from Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation that dredging and discharging would comply with the federal Clean Water Act. According to William Ashton, ADEC Stormwater Coordinator, state of Alaska has not yet issued the needed certification as of May 29, 2014. ADEC has 1 year from when the Corps issues its permit to issue its own “Certificate of Reasonable Assurance” that the project complies with State water quality guidelines. According to Jim Rypkema, program manager in ADEC’s Stormwater and Wetlands Section, the State typically issues its certificate within days of a federal permit issuance. Both the Federal EPA and NOAA have commented on the proposed dredging.
“If other agencies are in agreement [about the projects effects], then DEC generally issues the certificate,” said Rypkema.
Earlier this year, acting on behalf of Vigor Industries, prospective new owner of the shiplift and drydock at SMIC, ERM Consultants and GeoTek Alaska drilled down to extract samples of sediments near the site of the proposed dredging. Some samples contained tributyl tin (a now-banned component of bottom paint) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (residues of burned fuel) as detailed in a document entitled “Phase II Investigation Report Project Solstice Seward Ship’s Drydock” dated 16 April 2014. The information in the report entered the public record in late April, well after city of Seward submitted its application in February. The City’s application contained sediment data collected in May of 2013 and showed no contamination in concerning amounts. According to Bieberdorf, the only sediment data from SMIC that the Corps had in its possession as of June 2, 2014, came from the May 2013 sampling. Whether contaminant amounts found in the latest sampling in 2014 pose a problem for the issuance of the permit or the certificate remains an open question.