LNG project could bring more traffic to busy Kenai River

Managers are concerned that pressure on the Kenai River could increase if the Alaska LNG project goes through.

The project is still tentative and will not receive a final ruling until 2018 at the earliest, but if it does go through, the borough could see an influx of as many as 5,000 workers for the five years it takes to construct the 900-acre plant in Nikiski. Unless the camp is closed, many of them will likely recreate on the Kenai River.

The Kenai River Special Management Area board raised concerns about access to the river at its meeting Thursday. The Kenai River is already seeing impacts from too many people wanting to fish and boat, and the addition of a potential 5,000 more LNG employees — and potentially their families — to the peninsula.

Larry Persily, borough mayor Mike Navarre’s special assistant for oil and gas, addressed the board with an update about the particulars of the project. Much is still up for debate, including whether the project will even happen, he said.

“It’s going to be three years at best before we know whether this project is going to go through,” Persily said. “But during those three years, there will be a lot of work to do and a lot of community input.”

The board has been debating ways to limit access to the river for some time. During the board’s October meeting, the members asked Alaska Department of Parks and Outdoor Recreation representative Jack Blackwell to request a white paper from the Department of Law about ways to limit use of the river.

Blackwell said he requested the paper, but it was not ready for the November meeting. However, he said it would be ready for the December meeting.

The overuse of the river could be affecting habitat and water quality as well. Jeanne Swartz, a board member and an environmental program manager with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said a water quality survey from the Kenai Watershed Forum showed a relative improvement in water quality but elevated levels of certain metals, including copper and zinc.

“We’re not sure what could be causing that,” Swartz said. “We looked at the things that we were sure weren’t a problem and took them out of the program, and everything else is going to be looked at closely. Then we’ll be able to make a more sophisticated or more in-depth analysis.”

Elevated levels of copper can disturb young salmon, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. When the agency conducted a survey of 811 sites around the country in 2007, they found that elevated levels of copper may have come from road runoff in the surrounding areas and interfered with the salmon’s senses.

Swartz said the Department of Environmental Conservation is not sure what is causing the elevated levels of metals in the river but may request data from the Alaska Department of Transportation about road traffic as well as other information about potential sources of toxins in the environment.

If the LNG does come to Nikiski, there will likely be significant increases in traffic on roads close to the Kenai River, which could cause impacts in the water quality if road runoff damages salmon.

Persily suggested that the board list all its items of concern and submit them to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will be conducting the Environmental Impact Statement for the LNG project. That statement will take approximately three years and will play a significant role in the project’s fate, he said.

“FERC and the regulators know that this is going to have to look at salmon habitats, road traffic and air quality standards,” Persily said. “If there’s a concern that what are the company’s plans to deal with 5,000 workers roughly who on their days off will want to go to limited recreational opportunities on Kenai, that should be proposed in the EIS.”

Elizabeth Earl is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. She can be reached at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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