Plans are progressing to develop the Honsinger Pond area, home to a scenic patch of wildflowers called the Field of Fireweed and an 83-acre patch of privately-owned land adjacent to Egan Highway, with a vocal group who would like to see it remain undeveloped.
Owner Bicknell Inc. has filed a second permit application with the Army Corp of Engineers, a public notice for which was published Tuesday.
The permit application describes the next phase of work to develop 24 centrally located industrial lots on top of Honsinger Pond. Bicknell has already received a permit to fill the pond with nearly a million cubic yards of stumps and soil from other work sites.
The Corp approved that permit in 2015, and the City and Borough of Juneau rezoned the land from from a “rural reserve” designation to an “industrial” designation in May of last year.
The most recent permit application, if approved, allows Bicknell Inc. to dredge 134,000 cubic yards of sand and gravel from the pond. The newly-dredged materials would be used to cap the pond fill. It may be better to build on than the frost-susceptible soils deposited in Honsinger Pond since 2015.
The public is invited to comment on the proposal during a 30-day public comment period which ends Sept. 13, said the Corp’s Andy Mitzel. Comments are passed on to the land owner and taken into consideration during the National Environmental Policy Act review process.
Use of the Field of Fireweed has long been a point of contention with locals and the issue has many times come before the City and Borough of Juneau. Some are concerned that a large swath of fireweed adjacent to the highway would instead be replaced by industrial lots, or a motocross park, which Bicknell has applied for in the past but has since stated would only be a temporary use of the land before it’s fully developed.
Others fear for the disappearance of important bird habitat. The Mendenhall Wetlands, which includes the Honsinger Pond area, is an important stopover point for migratory birds and the Field of Fireweed has been labeled as an “important bird area” by the Audubon Society (a bird preservation organization).
Bicknell Inc. owner Spike Bicknell wasn’t available for comment Wednesday. The permit does include mitigation proposals which Field of Fireweed backers might approve. The wetlands chosen for development are all experiencing isostatic rebound, or the post-glacial rising of lands which slowly occurs around much of Southeast, meaning at some point in the distant future they’ll be too high to be considered wetlands, according to the application.
Effects to wildlife are unavoidable with the project, according to the permit application. To compensate, Bicknell Inc. has proposed the restoration of 2.32 acres of intertidal wetlands along the southeast fringe of the property.
Mitzel said anyone with a comment over how the project would affect the Juneau environment is encouraged to write in. The Corp considers written comments pertinent to the environmental review process and on the public interest of the proposed activity.
“If folks have comments that pertain to this pond as important habitat for ducks or this is a centerpiece of Juneau or whatever the reason might be for why we should not be granting them a permit … they should send it in,” Mitzel said.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.