Story last updated at 3:54 p.m. Thursday, May 23, 2002

Questions could slow Ocean Drive seawall
By R.J. Kelly
Managing Editor

Lingering questions over the potential side effects of a proposed seawall to protect homes on the eroding Ocean Drive Loop bluff in Homer could slow the permit process, federal officials say.

Phillip North, an aquatic ecologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Kenai, said he expects to be filing comments seeking more study on how construction of the 2,000-foot fiberglass-sheet wall might increase erosion in other areas, particularly the Homer Spit.

The public comment period has reopened until May 29 on the project after it was stalled last month when several federal and state agencies sought more information.

After two meetings in April, one in Homer and one in Anchorage, Carey Meyer, Homer's director of Public Works said he believed most of the questions delaying action on the Army Corp of Engineers permit had been addressed by the city's Anchorage-based consulting engineer Doug Jones.

Even so, officials of EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said they expected comments to be filed following further study of the project.

The state Division of Governmental Coordination is also reviewing the project's compliance with coastal zone guidelines.

Noting that in the natural course of events, erosion from the bluff provides material for the beach, North said he is concerned that the seawall might speed up the erosion process elsewhere.

"There's a question that if you stop erosion on that site possibly the Spit will start eroding," North said.

"Is the risk of the Spit eroding away high enough to warrant letting the houses fall into the sea?" North wondered. "We're not saying it is, we're just saying let's answer the question."

While stressing that "we're not saying this is an absolutely bad project," North said, "at this point we're just raising the question."

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey are expected to be in Homer next month on an unrelated study of Kachemak Bay, and North said he is hoping they will take a look at the seawall site.

Although the public comment period ends May 29, Ryan Winn, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers said that iff agencies such as the EPA or Fish and Wildlife Service request more time, Winn "we have to give them 25 more days."

"We're kind of got our fingers crossed, we've done everything we can and we're waiting for the responses," Meyer said.

Comments may be filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Regulatory Branch, PO Box 898, Anchorage, AK 99506.