A map showing Alternative 2, the most aggressive of four original options for expanding the Mendenhall Glacier Recreational Area, includes a dock for commercial motor boats that would carry passengers to a new visitor area at the face of the Mendenhall Glacier. That alternative is the “proposed action” by the U.S. Forest Service, but a revised draft Environmental Impact Statement scheduled to be released Tuesday adds three new lower-impact alternatives to three others already being considered. (U.S. Forest Service)

A map showing Alternative 2, the most aggressive of four original options for expanding the Mendenhall Glacier Recreational Area, includes a dock for commercial motor boats that would carry passengers to a new visitor area at the face of the Mendenhall Glacier. That alternative is the “proposed action” by the U.S. Forest Service, but a revised draft Environmental Impact Statement scheduled to be released Tuesday adds three new lower-impact alternatives to three others already being considered. (U.S. Forest Service)

Seven up for Mendenhall Glacier expansion project

New alternatives unbottled.

A larger number of options for expanding the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, a majority of which allow commercial motorized boat tours, is being proposed by the U.S. Forest Service in a project update scheduled for release Tuesday.

The original four alternatives are being supplemented with three additional options based on public input that began in 2020, according to Forest Service officials. Among the elements of the new proposals are revising the design and location of a new welcome center that would supplement the current visitors’ center, and moving parking lot expansions to areas further from the glacier that would be serviced with electric road shuttles.

“Three additional action alternatives were developed for consideration, based on the nearly 400 public comments received during the spring 2022 Draft Environmental Impact Statement comment period.” Erica Keene, a Forest Service spokesperson, wrote in an email Monday. “Commenters on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement requested that additional concepts for facilities be considered.”

The Forest Service, in a preliminary notice released Monday of its intention to issue a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement, states it does not expect to accept further public comment until the statemet is released next year.

“The SDEIS is expected to be available for public review and comment in the first quarter of 2023, and the final EIS is expected to be issued in the second quarter of 2023,” the draft states. “The comment period for the SDEIS will be for 45 days from the date the Environmental Protection Agency publishes the notice of availability in the Federal Register.”

Maps of the newly proposed alternatives were not available as of Monday, but will be included in the SDEIS, accordimg to Keene.

The “proposed action” known as Alternative 2 in the SDEIS is based on a 30-year future timeline that anticipates 2% annual visitor growth. It includes a dock for alternative fuel or low-emissions commercial motor boats carrying up to 49 passengers to a new visitor area at the face of the Mendenhall Glacier, a new 14,000-square-foot welcome center, an outdoor plaza with amphitheater, new facilities at Mendenhall Campground, extensive expansion and upgrades of trails (some designed for commercial bike and other tours), and numerous other modifications.

The other initial alternatives considered less impactful 15-year, 20-year and no-expansion scenarios with the 20-year option allowing for boats with electric motors that could carry up to 35 passengers. Two of the three new alternatives allow electric vessels carrying up to 49 people.

Allowing motorized vessels on the lake is among the most contentious issues of the proposed upgrades at Juneau’s most visited tourist attaction. Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy waded into the fight last week by filing a lawsuit seeking to seize state control of Mendenhall Lake and Mendenhall River from the federal government which, among other things, would remove restrictions on motorized vessels.

Another notable element of the three new alternatives is they offer different designs and locations for the proposed welcome center than all of the previous expansion options.

“Public comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement suggested locating the Welcome Center further from the lakeshore to reduce environmental and socio-economic impacts, including impacts to scenery and visitor experience,” Keene wrote. “It was suggested instead that the Welcome Center locations should be adjacent to the historic Visitor Center or closer to the entrance of the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area.”

Relocating expanded parking areas was also a frequently voiced comment, according to Keene.

“These concepts were not analyzed in detail in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, but will be analyzed in detail in the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement,” she wrote.

In summary, the new options include:

– Alternative 5, the second most-aggressive option, featuring a revised design and slightly modified location for the welcome center, allowing 49-passenger electronic boats to a modified Remote Glacier Visitor Area, and modifications to parking lot expansions including one at the Skater’s Cabin area rather than within Mendenhall Campground.

– Alternative 6, the least aggressive option, most notably due to no motorized vessels, boat docks or Remote Glacier Visitor Area. It also would include a remote bus dropoff point with electric shuttle service to a relocated welcome center located away from the lakeshore.

– Alternative 7, a mid-impact option, that would allow electric boats to a new Remote Glacier Visitor Area, but place the new welcome center and expanded bus parking away from Mendenhall Lake at the commercial bus lot with electric shuttle service to the Visitor Center.

The new alternatives will get the same level of scrutiny as the original alternatives, according to Keene.

“Much of the analysis will focus on issues related to visitor experience; wildlife and vegetation; and watersheds, wetlands, and aquatic habitat,” she wrote.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 22

Here’s what to expect this week.

Eddie Petrie shovels gravel into a mine cart as fast as possible during the men’s hand mucking competition as part of Juneau Gold Rush Days on Saturday at Savikko Park. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Mucking, trucking, chucking and yukking it up at Juneau Gold Rush Days

Logging competitions, live music, other events continue Sunday at Savikko Park.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, June 20, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Pins supporting the repeal of ranked choice voting are seen on April 20 at the Republican state convention in Anchorage. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
State judge upholds most fines against group seeking repeal of Alaska ranked choice voting

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has ruled that opponents of Alaska’s ranked… Continue reading

Joshua Midgett and Kelsey Bryce Riker appear on stage as the emcees for MixCast 2023 at the Crystal Saloon. (Photo courtesy Juneau Ghost Light Theatre)
And now for someone completely different: Familiar faces show new personas at annual MixCast cabaret

Fundraiser for Juneau Ghost Light Theatre on Saturday taking place amidst week of local Pride events

Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire
A section of Angoon along the coast is seen on June 14. Angoon was destroyed by the U.S. Navy in 1882; here is where they first pulled up to shore.
Long-awaited U.S. Navy apology for 1882 bombardment will bring healing to Angoon

“How many times has our government apologized to any American Native group?”

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon announced this week she plans to seek a third three-year term. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Mayor Beth Weldon seeking third term amidst personal and political challenges

Low mill rate, more housing cited by lifelong Juneau resident as achievements during past term.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, June 19, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

A king salmon is laid out for inspection by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at the Mike Pusich Douglas Harbor during the Golden North Salmon Derby on Aug. 25, 2019. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file photo)
Emergency order bans king salmon fishing in many Juneau waters between June 24 and Aug. 31

Alaska Department of Fish and Game says low projected spawning population necessitates restrictions

Most Read