The land recently acquired by Southeast Alaska Land Trust is near Egan Drive. (Courtesy Photo | Southeast Alaska Land Trust)                                The land recently acquired by Southeast Alaska Land Trust is near Egan Drive. (Courtesy Photo | Southeast Alaska Land Trust)

The land recently acquired by Southeast Alaska Land Trust is near Egan Drive. (Courtesy Photo | Southeast Alaska Land Trust) The land recently acquired by Southeast Alaska Land Trust is near Egan Drive. (Courtesy Photo | Southeast Alaska Land Trust)

Land trust acquires wetlands but Field of Fireweed poised for development

Permits were filed last year to develop on Juneau landmark

More than 30 acres of property along Egan Drive are now protected from future development.

Southeast Alaska Land Trust, an organization that acquires land to protect it for environmental, cultural or historic reasons, purchased about 32 acres of land known as the Honsinger Wetlands. The land is parallel to Egan Drive and abuts both a patch of wildflowers referred to as the Field of Fireweed and the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge.

“We’re thinking of it as a huge win,” said Allison Gillum, Executive Director for Southeast Alaska Land Trust. “We are really happy that we’ve been able to do it.”

[Land trust fundraiser covers wildest part of the Mendenhall Valley]

Gillum said the land trust closed on the land on Dec. 28 and purchased it from Bicknell Inc. Gillum would not disclose the price of the property. Bicknell Inc. did not return calls seeking comment.

The land trust now owns 87 acres of wetlands near the refuge, Gillum said.

Hunters likely knew the recently acquired land was private property, Gillum said, but many who pass it during daily commutes may have incorrectly assumed it was part of the refuge. Gillum hopes that it one day may become state property.

“This 32 acres was never part of the refuge, but it would be our intent to work with the state to give them this property to increase the size of the refuge,” Gillum said. “Our long-term plans are work with the state to pass ownership of the properties back to the state.”

What it doesn’t include

The acquired land does not include Honsinger Pond or the Field of Fireweed.

[Field of Fireweed bulldozed]

“We really tried to get the Field of Fireweed, but we couldn’t come to an agreement on the Field of Fireweed,” Gillum said. “We’re thrilled about the wetlands. That’s kind of the part that’s most valuable. It’s the part that’s connected to the refuge.”

Developing the Field of Fireweed has long been a controversial and frequently discussed idea that has come before the City and Borough of Juneau.

People who do not wish to see the field developed generally fret about the loss of a uniquely Juneau sight and habitat for wildlife. The Field of Fireweed has been labeled as an “important bird area” by the bird preservation organization, the Audubon Society.

However, in recent years, there has been steady progress toward developing the land.

In 2017, the land was rezoned from a rural reserve designation to an industrial designation.

In September 2018, the Empire reported permits were filed by Bicknell Inc. with the Army Corps of Engineers to develop an 83-acre patch of land that included the acres recently acquired by the land trust.

[More permits filed to develop Field of Fireweed]

A permit was issued with special conditions by the Corps in mid December, according to the Corps’ website.

In the permit application, 32.28 acres that essentially overlap with the new land trust property, are labeled as a conservation lot with sale pending. The application also includes a proposed the restoration of 2.32 acres of intertidal wetlands along the southeast end of the property.

The stated purpose for the remaining 50.53 acres is developing 24 centrally located industrial lots, and Honsinger Pond would be a disposal site for fill material.

“As far as the Corps is concerned they have their permitting to do their fill,” Andy Mitzel, project manager for the regulatory division of the Alaska District for the Corps.

Mitzel explained some of the permit’s special conditions that go along with the permit.

“These mainly deal with navigation,” Mitzel said. “Basically if these impede free navigation, they might have to remove it. I’ve never, ever heard of someone having to do that.”

He said that’s particularly unlikely given that the project is not near a port.

Additionally, the Corps will need to be notified within 60 days once the project is completed and clean material will need to be used for the fill, Mitzel said.

• Reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com.


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com.


Land trust acquires wetlands but Field of Fireweed poised for development

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