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Conservation Groups File Water Quality Suit
Suit Prompted by DEC's Authorization Allowing
Additional Discharge Into Ward Cove


September 29, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - In a move to enforce the Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) legal responsibility to protect the designated uses of Alaska's waters, the Tongass Conservation Society (TCS), the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) announced a suit was filed today against DEC's decision to authorize additional discharge of woody debris and bark into Ward Cove.

jpg Ward Cove

Ward Cove
Aerial Photo Courtesy Ketchikan Gateway Borough

According to the conservation groups, Alaska's antidegradation regulation allows DEC to approve reductions in water quality only where the existing water quality exceeds levels necessary to support designated uses, including the growth and propagation of fish, shellfish, other aquatic life, and wildlife. The groups say... in Ward Cove, it does not.

The Tongass Conservation Society (TCS), the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) say Ward Cove has been listed as impaired by DEC for residue, sediment toxicity, and dissolved oxygen since 1990. In Ward Cove, wood residues cover roughly 75 percent of the bottom of the cove (185 acres) in varying degrees. Consequently, Ward Cove's existing water quality already adversely impacts its designated uses.

"The cove is impaired. Period. That effectively means you can't keep dumping more logs into it," says Gregory Vickrey of TCS. "More bark will make matters worse, not better."

The conservation groups say their suit aims to hold DEC to its responsibility to protect Alaska's tremendous coastal waters for a variety of uses. The groups assert that rather than taking any meaningful steps to clean up existing bark and woody debris in Ward Cove, DEC has unlawfully authorized the discharge of more waste. The additional waste will inhibit other uses of Ward Cove and Ward Creek, including recreation and other development, say the conservation groups.

"Lots of people around here fish in Ward Creek. The most productive part of the system is where the creek empties into Ward Cove. It's important for juvenile and adult salmon, cutthroat and steelhead trout, and Dolly Varden. The log storage and transfer allowed under the challenged permit will harm this use," says Wayne Weihing of Ketchikan.

As one of the largest deep-water ports in Southeast, Ward Cove could be a great economic asset to the region, say the conservation groups. The Tongass Conservation Society (TCS), the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) noted, DEC's permit to allow more log storage jeopardizes that economic development. The groups quoted a 2003 analysis requested by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough TranSystems Corporation reported, "Log storage could interfere with economic opportunities and interest in redeveloping Ward Cove for boat repair and small boat harbor purposes, as well as use of the area by Alaska Marine Highway ferries."

The Tongass Conservation Society (TCS) recently supported the proposal by the Alaska Marine Highway System to use Ward Cove for vessel lay-up.

"Ward Cove is the one of the largest protected deep-water ports in Southeast Alaska. Use of Ward Cove as a marine highway port could be jeopardized if more debris is permitted. Ward Cove isn't just a log dump, but has many other valuable uses." said Beth Peluso from the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.



On the Web:

Ketchikan Gateway Borough: Ward Cove Study


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