Environmental impact of Jims’ Landing improvements assessed

The boat launch is located in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area, near Milepost 58 of the Sterling Highway.

A schematic of one of the options for the Jims’ Landing boat launch project scope. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

A schematic of one of the options for the Jims’ Landing boat launch project scope. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The negative environmental impact of making improvements to Jims’ Landing in the Skilak area will mostly be seen in the loss of habitat that will result from expanding the site’s existing footprint, but would be insignificant if property management practices are followed. That’s according to the project’s Draft Environment Assessment, which was released earlier this week.

The boat launch is located in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area, near Milepost 58 of the Sterling Highway. The project aims to improve boat ramp conditions and pedestrian and vehicle safety, as well as provide more parking capacity for vehicles with and without trailers. The project would also provide an off-site parking area on the south side of the Sterling Highway.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that about 42,000 people use the boat ramp each year primarily for boat landing and launching as well as take-out. The ramp is the last take-out before the Kenai River canyon above Skilak Lake.

In also addressing the facilities associated with the ramp, the environmental assessment survey notes that during the fishing season the area becomes “chaotic” due to the area being at maximum capacity. Because the ramp’s parking area is limited, commercial operators have to use overflow parking on the other side of the highway. That becomes dangerous when those operators then have to walk across the highway to get back to Skilak Lake Road.

Other alternatives included no action, meaning the site would stay as-is, or completing minor improvements that have the least impact on vegetation and wetlands but does not improve parking capacity or traffic congestion at the ramp, which is what the project is meant to do. The preferred alternative, “Alternative C,” would expand and improve the boat ramp and parking and provide off-site parking while minimizing impacts to the surrounding environment.

Among the impacts to wildlife and fish species under Alternative C would be increased disturbance to wildlife human activities, changes in wildlife activity patterns as a result of those disturbances, a loss of up to 3.2 acres of habitat through the expansion of the existing footprint of Jims’ Landing. The installation of root wads for bank stabilization would also benefit fish by providing habitat. The assessment also says there would be no impacts to threatened or endangered species, a loss of up to 3.3 acres of vegetation — including 53 trees — and increased localized noise disturbance in the off-site parking area.

Ultimately, the assessment concludes that while the environment stands to be negatively impacted by expanding existing infrastructure and facilities, those impacts would be insignificant if proper mitigation measures are followed.

“The Preferred Alternative would meet the purpose and need of the project by enhancing recreation experience for sport fishing and scenic floats and wildlife viewing by providing safer boat ramp conditions for launches and retrievals, and alleviating congestion in parking and staging areas by providing greater capacity for trailers and staging areas,” the assessment says. “The project would also protect natural resources of Jims’ Landing by implementing [best management practices] and other measures to avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts to wetland and riparian habitats.”

The Draft Environmental Assessment will be available from May 5 to June 19 and can be found at fws.gov/refuge/kenai. Public comments will be accepted during the same time period.

A virtual public review and comment meeting will be held on May 19 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. or until questions and comments have ended. That meeting will be held via Zoom and can be accessed with meeting ID 844 0255 5712 and meeting password 083127. Written comments can be submitted to PND Engineers, Inc. at 1506 W 36th Ave., Anchorage, AK, 99503 or via email at jimslanding@pndengineers.com.

More information on the Jims’ Landing Boat Launch Access and Parking Improvements can be found at usfws-jims.blogspot.com.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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