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Anchorage Assembly postpones vote on wetlands plan updates

Tegan Hanlon

Assembly members voted Tuesday to delay a decision on controversial updates to the Anchorage Wetlands Management Plan that critics say soften language meant to protect certain areas from development.

Three community councils submitted resolutions to the Anchorage Assembly prior to the Tuesday meeting, targeting the new plan's revamped wording for Chester Creek, Goose Lake and Mosquito Lake. They asked the Assembly to retain the current protection strategies, instituted in 1996, for the three designated wetlands and argued that there have been no changes to the wetlands' functional values to warrant the rewrites.

In the case of Mosquito Lake, the new wetlands plan alters the strategy from "shall be preserved without disturbance" to "shall be preserved to the maximum extent possible." The eastern edge of the 14-acre swath of open water and wetland lies near the path of a road that will connect Elmore Road and Bragaw Street -- a long-talked-about project with vocal opponents.

"We're watering them down for convenience," Paul Stang, a board member of the University Area Community Council, said to the Assembly. "Don't do it. It's going down the wrong road."

Assembly member Amy Demboski moved to postpone the vote on the wetlands plan until July 8 to give the Assembly more time to understand the proposed changes. The members unanimously agreed.

"I've been sitting here trying to sort it out myself," Assembly member Ernie Hall said at Tuesday's meeting. "That two weeks would be extremely helpful to get a clear understanding of what we're dealing with."

In April, the Assembly extended the public hearing on the wetlands plan to Tuesday to give community councils more time to review the 150-page document.

Iris Matthews, president of the Rogers Park Community Council, told the Assembly during the hearing that weakening existing wetland protections will only produce adverse effects.

"These wetlands help maintain water quality in the Chester Creek watershed. They reduce flooding and they provide habitats for birds and wildlife and lots of abundant recreational and education opportunities," she said. "Proper stewardship of these wetlands has been an issue that's been raised many times at our community council meetings and we've always come down on the side of more protection and not less."

The wetlands plan is written by the city's planning division as an advisory document for the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps grants permits for construction activities on Anchorage's Class A and B wetlands, while the city approves development on Class C wetlands.

City planning officials have said that the changes will not alter the handling of area wetlands.

Nicole Hayes, a regulatory specialist with the Corps of Engineers, told the Daily News in April that the 1996 wetlands plan was not "realistic."

"Saying that Class A wetlands are not developable is not a realistic statement," Hayes said. "Those are the wetlands we want to avoid as a community. However, the plan itself doesn't stop development."

The Assembly will hold a public work session on the amendments to the wetlands plan before its next meeting. As of Wednesday, a date for the work session had not yet been set, said Assembly Chair Patrick Flynn.

Reach Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@adn.com.


By TEGAN HANLON
thanlon@adn.com