Story last updated at 2:57 p.m. Friday, April 12, 2002

Bluff seawall project on hold
by Joel Gay and R.J. Kelly
Homer News Staff

State and federal agencies have developed an unexpected interest in the bluff erosion control project off Ocean Drive Loop that could change the fate of the million-dollar effort.

As it now stands, the project is essentially on hold until the various agencies meet tomorrow to discuss the scope of the plan and see if any special conditions need to be added.

In a notice dated April 3, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the city's application to install a 2,000-foot seawall had been "temporarily withdrawn" and evaluation suspended. But Carey Meyer, Homer's public works director, said the city has only asked "to stop the clock" on the permitting and public comment phase until any concerns are clarified.

I'm not willing to move forward on the construction. Until I understand the conditions that could affect the cost of the project," Meyer said.

"When we initiated the process," he said the comments we heard were that no permits would be required. "So it did take us little bit by surprise" to hear of the heightened interest.

The scoping meeting is expected to bring together agencies including the Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Fish and Game.

"It's a sit down, face-to-face, let's get all the questions answered at one time kind of meeting" so the agencies can see what the city and landowners have proposed, Meyer said.

The public is welcome to attend the noon meeting in Homer City Hall to listen, but there will be no public comment period.

The meeting "is set up to hear the comments of the regulatory agencies," Meyer said.

The city agreed to assist a group of Ocean Drive Loop landowners build the project by providing planning assistance and allowing them to create a local improvement district to pay for the work. Plans call for erecting about 2,000 feet of fiberglass-composite sheet pile along the face of the eroding bluff, then backfilling the space between the wall and the bluff with dredge spoils from the Homer Small Boat Harbor.

As required for any construction project in the coastal zone, the city filed a notice with the state. Because the project is above the mean high-tide line, Meyer said, "I got the impression most of the agencies weren't interested."

When the Corps of Engineers opened the public comment period on the project, however, several state and federal agencies spoke up, Meyer said. Their potential concerns range from bird habitat to sediment movement to erosion control.

"Everybody looks at it a little differently," he said. "The Corps tries to balance those concerns" before it issues the final authorization to proceed.

Tomorrow's meeting could answer all the agencies' questions, Meyer said. Then again, it may not. It is possible one or more of them will want additional information or require permits.

The project is designed and ready to build, Meyer said.

A bigger concern is that an agency could require some alteration that would boost the cost of the project. Meyer said it is currently over budget, but contingency funds will cover the expenses. The project was originally budgeted at $904,000, he said last week.

"Any significant increase in cost due to permitting requirements would push the budget high enough to require a re-vote" of the landowners, he said. "I'm not sure that's the end of the world," he said, but it will be the landowners' decision to proceed or not.

Even if another vote is required, Meyer said he believes the project could be done this year. If no additional permits are required and the Corps of Engineers issues its permit as expected, work could begin as early as June.

"We're still very hopeful that after the (meeting) any concerns the agencies have will be resolved," Meyer said, "and we will be able to move ahead with the project and get it completed this summer."