Story last updated at 1:23 p.m. Thursday, November 28, 2002

State reassesses fish passage at area culverts
Sepp Jannotta and Chris Bernard

MIGRATING SALMON might have an easier time getting past man-made structures such as culverts and dams as they push up to their spawning beds and juvenile rearing areas in coming seasons. That's the goal of an agreement the Alaska Department of Fish and Game signed with the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. The memorandum signed by Fish and Game Commissioner Frank Rue and DOT Commissioner Joe Perkins stresses that improvements must be made in cases where fish passage is impeded. A press release from the office of Gov. Tony Knowles said the two agencies "will meet annually to prioritize corrective actions to remove barriers to safe fish passage. At that time, agencies will agree to a schedule for corrective actions." It remains unclear where the problem culverts on lower Kenai Peninsula streams, which have been giving way under the strain of two recent and bizarre late-season flooding events, will rank on that priority list. Fish and Game habitat biologist Stewart Seaberg has spent a lot of time during the past month monitoring culvert and road repair work on the peninsula. He said department biologists would be talking with DOT in coming weeks about what areas along the Sterling Highway need improvement. He said two culverts that are certain to be addressed are Stariski Creek and the North Fork of the Anchor River on the road to Nikolaevsk. Seaberg said they are likely to become bridges within the next few years. "The culvert issue is a no-brainer for everyone," Seaberg said. "They need to be fixed." The memo also said that as new construction projects are funded, the agencies will ensure that safe fish passage to spawning, rearing and over-wintering habitat is maintained. The agencies will also offer Web-based technical resource information regarding safe fish passage to local governments, other state and federal agencies, consultants and other entities. The agreement, which the Governor's office announced on Tuesday, expands on a similar memorandum of understanding signed by DOT and ADF&G last year that applied only to the design and construction of culverts. "This agreement directs the state's fish habitat and transportation experts to continue their cooperative efforts, including funding, to ensure safe fish passage as Alaska develops our transportation infrastructure into the 21st century," Knowles said. "At its core is a belief that in Alaska we can have quality transportation infrastructure and abundant fisheries resources."

Two Sitka divers were found on a beach in good condition last week, two days after their boat overturned about 20 miles north of Angoon, the Daily Sitka Sentinel reported. Eric Holmlund, 46, and Spencer Severson, 57, were taking turns diving for sea cucumbers from Holmlund's 30-foot aluminum boat F/V Hammerhead when the boat unexpectedly flipped. "(They were) stranded for almost two days on a ragged coastline in Southeast Alaska," Severson's wife, Ellen Frankenstein, told the Homer News. "It was about 40 degrees and raining. The sun goes down before 5 p.m. and comes back sometime after 8 a.m. They had no clothes, no shoes, no food, no matches and walked 18 miles for help." Severson was aboard the Hammerhead tending the hookah breathing gear while Holmlund was diving; when Severson felt the boat begin to list, he tried to stabilize it, even pitching the divers' catch overboard in the effort. He signaled Holmlund to surface, and together they tried to find the problem. Unable to find it, the pair left the boat in their diving drysuits just before it capsized. They swam to shore and began walking toward Angoon. They spent that night in the woods without survival gear, using branches to keep warm. The following day, Holmlund's wife called the Coast Guard after learning that other divers returning from the area in slower boats were already back in Sitka. "Eric and Spencer spent their second night on the beach, wearing again only their dry suits," Frankenstein told the Homer News. "They were cold. They were hungry. They slept on some washed up foam, with branches over their bodies, huddled together for warmth. It was hard to sleep after midnight, Spencer said, because they were so cold." The Coast Guard attempted to contact the Hammerhead by radio throughout the second night, and launched two helicopters the next morning. A private floatplane from Angoon also joined the search, the Coast Guard reported. The overturned boat was located late that morning, and two hours later the two divers were found about two miles from Angoon. They'd walked about 18 miles in their drysuits. Severson and Holmlund contacted their wives by cell phone, but remained behind in Angoon to try to salvage the boat, Frankenstein said.