Anchorage Assembly passes updated wetlands plan

Tegan Hanlon

The Anchorage Assembly passed an updated wetlands management plan this week after months of debate over a slight change in wording that engineers called negligible but that critics argued would unlock protected areas.

Ultimately, the Assembly compromised on language dealing with Mosquito Lake, a 14-acre Class A wetland in the U-Med district that's near the path of a long-talked-about road project. The lake's open water area will keep the 1996 planning strategy of “shall be preserved without disturbance,” while the surrounding wetlands will be subject to the rewrite saying “shall be preserved to the maximum extent possible.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses the city's 150-page wetlands management plan as an advisory document when granting permits for the development of some designated wetlands. The document is updated every few years.

Assembly member Elvi Gray-Jackson submitted the Mosquito Lake amendment at the Assembly’s Tuesday meeting. It sparked worry by some Assembly members that they would be creating a special category for Mosquito Lake.

“I think that I’ve seen no scientific reason why Mosquito Lake should be given any further protection,” said Assembly member Bill Evans.

Three neighboring community councils passed resolutions last month targeting the revamped wording for Mosquito Lake, saying it opened up the land for development. They have also been vocal opponents of the proposed nearby road that would connect Elmore Road and Bragaw Street.

Curt Biberdorf, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, wrote in an email that the wording change will not affect how the Corps handles permitting since it must follow federal regulations.

According to the updated management plan, the total number of wetlands parcels in Anchorage has shrunk from 5,516 in 1996 to about 4,000 in 2012.