Final Environmental Impact Statement; Izembek National Wildlife Refuge Proposed Land Exchange/Road Corridor, Cold Bay, Alaska

Posted on: February 5th, 2013 | Author: Virgil | Filed under: Community Window

Download the “Final Environmental Impact Statement; Izembek National Wildlife Refuge Proposed Land Exchange/Road Corridor, Cold Bay, Alaska” here: http://www.ofr.gov/(S(2dsveohjqfh1ig1oy0tzmq0e))/OFRUpload/OFRData/2013-02618_PI.pdf

More about the EIS here: http://izembek.fws.gov/eis.htm

Text of the PDF below.

Billing Code: 4310-5
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
Fish and Wildlife Service
[FWS-R7-R-2012-N206]
[FXRS12650700000-134-FF07R06000]
Final Environmental Impact Statement; Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
Proposed Land Exchange/Road Corridor, Cold Bay, Alaska
AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.
ACTION: Notice of availability.
SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the
availability of a final environmental impact statement (EIS) for a proposed land
exchange/road corridor on the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge), Alaska. We
prepared this final EIS pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969
(NEPA) and its implementing regulations. The Service is furnishing this notice to advise
the public and other agencies of availability of the final EIS.
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DATES: The review period will end [INSERT DATE 30 DAYS AFTER DATE OF
PUBLICATION IN THE FEDERAL REGISTER]. We are not soliciting comments on
the final EIS during this review period.
ADDRESSES: You may submit questions or requests for more information by any one
of the following methods:
E-mail: izembek_eis [at] fws [dot] gov; include “Izembek National Wildlife Refuge final
EIS” in the subject line of the message.
Fax: Attn: Stephanie Brady, Project Team Leader, (907) 786-3965.
U.S. Mail: Stephanie Brady, Project Team Leader, U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, 1011 East Tudor Rd., MS-231, Anchorage, AK 99503.
In-Person Pickup or Drop-off: You may pick up a copy of the EIS or drop off
questions during regular business hours at the address listed above.
You will find the final EIS, as well as information about the process and a summary of
the final EIS, on the Izembek refuge web site: http://izembek.fws.gov/eis.htm.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Stephanie Brady, (907) 306-7448, or
at the addresses above.
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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:
Introduction
In 2009 the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (Act), Pub. L. 111-
11; 123 Stat. 991, was enacted. Subject to complying with the requirements of the Act,
it authorized the Secretary of the Interior to enter into a land exchange between the
Service and State of Alaska and between the Service and the King Cove Corporation for
the purpose of constructing a single-lane gravel road between the communities of King
Cove and Cold Bay, Alaska, through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The land
exchange would involve the removal of approximately 200 acres within the Izembek
National Wildlife Refuge, including lands within the Izembek Wilderness, for the road
corridor, and approximately 1,600 acres of Federal land within the Alaska Maritime
National Wildlife Refuge on Sitkinak Island. In exchange, the Service would receive
approximately 43,093 acres of land owned by the State of Alaska and approximately
13,300 acres of land owned by the King Cove Corporation. The lands from the State of
Alaska would be designated wilderness, as would the approximately 2,565 acres of lands
from the King Cove Corporation. These lands are located around Cold Bay and adjacent
to the North Creek Unit of Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge.
With this notice, we continue the EIS process for the Izembek National Wildlife
Refuge land exchange/road corridor proposal. We started this process with notices of
intent in the Federal Register (74 FR 39336; August 6, 2009; 75 FR 8396; February 24,
2010), indicating the beginning of the scoping period and publishing the dates and
locations of the scoping meetings. We also published a notice of availability, announcing
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the release of the Draft EIS and the opening of the public comment period (77 FR 16059;
March 19, 2012)
The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge (417,533 acres) and the North Creek
(8,452 acres) and Pavlof (1,447,264 acres) units of the Alaska Peninsula National
Wildlife Refuge are located at the westernmost tip of the Alaska Peninsula. To the north
of the Izembek Refuge is the Bering Sea; to the south is the Pacific Ocean. The Alaska
Peninsula is dominated by the rugged Aleutian Range, part of the Aleutian arc chain of
volcanoes. Landforms include mountains, active volcanoes, U-shaped valleys, glacial
moraines, low tundra wetlands, lakes, sand dunes, and lagoons. Elevations range from
sea level to the 9,372-foot Shishaldin Volcano. Shishaldin Volcano is a designated
National Natural Landmark. Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge stretches from
the Arctic Ocean to the southeast panhandle of Alaska and protects breeding habitat for
seabirds, marine mammals, and other wildlife on more than 2,500 islands, spires, rocks,
and coastal headlands.
Background
On December 6, 1960, Public Land Order 2216 established the 498,000-acre
Izembek National Wildlife Range, which included Izembek Lagoon and its entire
watershed near the tip of the Alaska Peninsula, as “a refuge, breeding ground and
management area for all forms of wildlife.” Eighty-four thousand, two hundred acres of
this national wildlife range, including Izembek Lagoon, are State lands under the
Submerged Lands Act, 43 U.S.C. 1312. The State of Alaska established the Izembek
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State Game Refuge to continue protecting the rare resources of Izembek Lagoon in 1972.
In December 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA;
Public Law 96-487) was enacted. Section 303(3) redesignated the existing Izembek
National Wildlife Range, containing the 417,533-acre watershed surrounding Izembek
Lagoon, as the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
As described in ANILCA, Izembek Refuge purposes include the following:
(i) to conserve fish and wildlife populations and habitats in their natural
diversity;
(ii) to fulfill the international treaty obligations of the United States with respect
to fish and wildlife and their habitats;
(iii) to provide, in a manner consistent with the purposes set forth in
subparagraphs (i) and (ii), the opportunity for continued subsistence uses by
local residents; and
(iv) to ensure, to the maximum extent practicable and in a manner consistent
with the purposes set forth in paragraph (i), water quality and necessary
water quantity within the refuge.
Section 702(6) of ANILCA also designated 300,000 acres (72 percent) of the
Izembek Refuge as a wilderness area under the Wilderness Act. The Wilderness Act
creates additional purposes for designated wilderness areas within refuge boundaries.
Specifically, these areas are to be managed “for the use and enjoyment of the American
people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as
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wilderness, and so as to provide for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their
wilderness character, and for the gathering and dissemination of information regarding
their use and enjoyment as wilderness.” The Wilderness Act prohibits the construction of
permanent roads through a wilderness area designated under the Act.
The Izembek Refuge is inhabited by a diverse and abundant community of fish
and wildlife. Izembek Lagoon and adjacent coastal waters and wetlands form one of the
most important migratory bird staging habitats in the world. In recognition of this, and
for its importance to internationally migrating birds, it was designated as a Globally
Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy in 2001. Hundreds of thousands
of geese, ducks, and shorebirds use the Izembek Refuge’s wetlands and the adjacent
lagoons to rest and feed during their long migrations between arctic breeding areas and
their diverse wintering areas, some as far away as South America and New Zealand.
Each spring and fall, Izembek Lagoon provides staging habitat for more than 90 percent
of the world’s population of Pacific brant and many sea ducks and other waterbirds
winter at the Izembek Refuge and adjacent marine waters.
Together, the Izembek Refuge and Izembek State Game Refuge, which
encompasses the tidelands of Izembek Lagoon, were recognized for the area’s
extraordinary ecological values when they became one of the first sites in North America
to be designated a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar convention,
one of only 19 such sites within the United States. Izembek Lagoon supports some of the
most extensive remaining eelgrass meadows in the world, providing a rich environment
for waterbirds and other wildlife. Izembek Lagoon and adjacent habitats qualify as a site
of Regional Importance (hosts at least 20,000 birds annually) and likely International
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Importance (hosts at least 100,000 birds annually) in the Western Hemispheric Shorebird
Reserve Network. The lagoon’s barrier islands protect the eelgrass habitat and wildlife
species from the dramatic storms of the Bering Sea.
The Izembek Refuge also supports species of concern such as the threatened
Steller’s eider, threatened sea otter, threatened Steller sea lion, tundra swan, black brant,
gray-bellied brant, and emperor goose. Wildlife habitat throughout the Izembek
Wilderness currently maintains a high level of connectivity providing undisturbed habitat
for brown bear, caribou, moose, salmon and countless migratory birds. Additionally,
caribou use Izembek Refuge as wintering grounds and brown bear use the area around the
isthmus for denning. Red fox, wolves and wolverines are found on the refuge and harbor
seals can be seen along the coastline and in the lagoons. Coho, chum, sockeye, and pink
salmon return in great numbers to the many streams of Izembek Refuge to spawn each
year.
The refuge also has a rich human history, from ancient settlements of Alaska
Natives, through the 18th and 19th century Russian fur traders, to a World War II
outpost. The Izembek Wilderness covers most of the refuge and includes pristine
streams, extensive wetlands, steep mountains, tundra, and sand dunes, and provides high
scenic, wildlife, and scientific values, as well as outstanding opportunities for solitude
and primitive and unconfined recreation. Currently, the narrow isthmus separating the
Bering Sea from the North Pacific is not fragmented by road construction and provides
connectivity of habitat for many species inhabiting the southern Alaska Peninsula region.
In addition to lands within Izembek Refuge, the land exchange involves parcels on
Sitkinak Island within Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and parcels owned by
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the King Cove Corporation and the State of Alaska located on the Alaska Peninsula.
Sitkinak Island is primarily owned by the State of Alaska, with two parcels owned by the
Service.
The King Cove Corporation is an Alaska Native Village Corporation established
under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (43 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.)
(ANCSA). Under the authority of ANCSA, Congress granted King Cove Corporation
land entitlements within and adjacent to Izembek Refuge. The State of Alaska also owns
lands, submerged lands, shorelands, and tidelands within and adjacent to Izembek and
Alaska Peninsula Refuges, including the Izembek State Game Refuge.
Prior legislation and an EIS also focused on providing access between the
communities of King Cove and Cold Bay. The King Cove Health and Safety Act
(Section 353) of the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations
Act of 1999 (Public Law 105-227) provided appropriations of $37.5 million for the
Aleutians East Borough to construct a marine-road link between the communities of King
Cove and Cold Bay ($20 million). This law also provided an appropriation for
improvements to the King Cove Airport ($15 million) and King Cove Clinic ($2.5
million). The conference committee report on this law stated the committees agreed to
these funds as an alternative to an easement for a road through the Izembek National
Wildlife Refuge wilderness area to address critical health and safety needs.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Alaska District, completed the King Cove
Access Project EIS and issued a Record of Decision addressing the marine-road link in
2003. The road was constructed to Lenard Harbor, where hovercraft support facilities
were installed. A hovercraft was purchased and began operating in 2007. Hovercraft
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transit service was provided by the Aleutians East Borough until November 2010.
Throughout this time, King Cove residents continued to advocate for a road as the safest
and most reliable transportation system.
The extraordinary wildlife and wilderness resources of Izembek National Wildlife
Refuge have been recognized for their national and international significance. Congress
designated the wilderness area for its outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive
and unconfined type of recreation. It contains outstanding ecological, geological, or
other features of scientific, educational, scenic, and historical value. It has retained its
primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation,
and is currently managed to protect and preserve its natural conditions. Section 6402(b)
of the Act, requires the Service to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) under
the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.),
and its implementing regulations (40 CFR parts 1500-1508). The Act directs that the EIS
analyze the proposed land exchange and the potential construction and operation of a
road between the communities of King Cove and Cold Bay, Alaska. The Act requires
that the Service identify a specific road corridor through the refuge for consideration in
consultation with the State, the City of King Cove, and the Agdaagux Tribe of King
Cove. Following completion of the EIS and Record of Decision, if a land exchange
alternative is selected, section 6402(d) of the Act requires the Secretary to determine
whether the land exchange (including the construction of a road between the City of King
Cove, Alaska, and the Cold Bay Airport) is in the public interest.
EIS Alternatives We Considered
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Subject to complying with the requirements of the Act, the Secretary of the
Interior is authorized to consider a land exchange between the Service and State of
Alaska and between the Service and the King Cove Corporation for the purpose of
constructing a single-lane gravel road between the communities of King Cove and Cold
Bay, Alaska. The Act also required that we prepare this final EIS. The Agdaagux Tribe
of King Cove, Aleutians East Borough, City of King Cove, Federal Highway
Administration/Western Federal Lands, King Cove Corporation, Native Village of
Belkofski, State of Alaska, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Alaska District, are
formal cooperators in the preparation of this final EIS. The Service is the lead agency.
The final EIS includes evaluation of two specific potential road corridors through
the Izembek Refuge and Wilderness that were identified in consultation with the State of
Alaska, the City of King Cove, and the Agdaagux Tribe of King Cove. We developed
and evaluated the following alternatives, summarized in the table and described briefly
below. A full description of each alternative is in the final EIS.
Alternative 1
No Action
Alternative 2
Alternative 3 Alternative 4 Alternative 5
No land
exchange.
Continue
current modes
of
transportation,
including air
and marine.
Land
exchange and
southern road
alignment
through
Izembek
Refuge and
Wilderness.
Land
exchange and
northern
alignment
through
Izembek
Refuge and
Wilderness.
Hovercraft
operation 6
days per
week from
Northeast
Hovercraft
Terminal to
Cross Wind
Cove.
Lenard Harbor
ferry with Cold
Bay dock
improvements.
Alternative 1 – No Action
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Under Alternative 1, the Service would not enter into a land exchange with King
Cove Corporation and the State of Alaska for the purpose of constructing a road between
King Cove and Cold Bay, Alaska. Current modes of transportation between the cities of
King Cove and Cold Bay would continue to operate, including air, personal marine
vessels, and a ferry service approximately twice per month in the summer season. The
Aleutians East Borough has indicated they have considered an aluminum landing
craft/passenger ferry to provide a marine-road link between the Northeast Hovercraft
Terminal and the Cross Wind Cove if there is no land exchange.
According to the Borough, the vessel contemplated would accommodate
approximately 30 passengers, occasional wheeled vehicles/ambulances and limited cargo.
The vessel would operate between the Northeast Hovercraft Terminal and Cross Wind
Cove, the same route analyzed in the 2003 EIS for the hovercraft.
Alternative 2 – Land Exchange and Southern Road Alignment
Alternative 2 proposes a land exchange between the Federal government, State of
Alaska, and King Cove Corporation as described in the Proposed Action. The estimated
amount of Federal land exchanged in this alternative for the road corridor would be 201
acres, including 131 acres in Izembek Wilderness, assuming a 100-foot corridor width.
Alternative 3 – Land Exchange and Central Road Alignment
Alternative 3 proposes a land exchange between the Federal government, State of
Alaska, and King Cove Corporation, as described in the Proposed Action. The estimated
amount of Federal land exchanged in this alternative for the road corridor would be 227
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acres, including 152 acres in Izembek Wilderness, assuming a 100-foot corridor width.
Alternative 4 – Hovercraft Operations from the Northeast Hovercraft Terminal to
Cross Wind Cove (6 days per week)
Alternative 4 is the Proposed Action in the 2003 EIS for the King Cove Access
Project completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Alaska District. The alternative
considered in this EIS would not require further construction activities; the alternative
will consider operations of the hovercraft, as described in the 2003 EIS, for service six
days per week between the Northeast Hovercraft Terminal and the Cross Wind Cove. As
the draft EIS was approaching completion, the Aleutians East Borough sent the Service a
letter stating they will not resume hovercraft service in the foreseeable future.
Alternative 5 – Lenard Harbor Ferry with Cold Bay Dock Improvements
Alternative 5 would use a ferry to travel 14 miles between a terminal in Lenard
Harbor and a substantially modified Cold Bay dock. This alternative is similar to an
alternative that was analyzed in the 2003 EIS, with the exception of project elements that
have been permitted or constructed to date, including the access road to the site, a
terminal building with associated utility infrastructure, and a parking area. However, the
Lenard Harbor terminal structure has been damaged by a storm, and would have to be
replaced. Upgrades to the parking area and security fencing would also be necessary.
Ferry service would be provided six days per week.
Preferred Alternative
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Council on Environmental Quality Regulations (40 CFR 1502.14) require
agencies to identify the agency’s preferred alternative in a final EIS. Consistent with this
requirement, the Service’s preferred alternative is Alternative 1, the no action alternative.
This alternative was so identified because it is believed to best meet refuge purposes and
the Service mission. While the proposed land exchange would provide many more acres
of land as part of the Refuge System; the habitat values of these lands do not compare
with the habitat values of the areas within the proposed road corridors and do not
compensate for the effects that locating a road within the Izembek Wilderness would
have on wildlife, habitat, and wilderness values of the refuge.
During preparation of the draft EIS, the cooperators met over 100 times. Most of
the cooperators have met repeatedly with senior Service and Department of the Interior
officials to express their recommendations for a preferred alternative. The identification
of Alternative 1 as the preferred alternative in the EIS was made by the U. S. Fish and
Wildlife Service as lead agency and is not preferred by all the cooperators on the project.
The Izembek Refuge and Alaska Peninsula Refuge would receive over 55,000
acres offered by the State and King Cove Corporation in exchange for de-designating
approximately 200 acres of Izembek Refuge Wilderness and transferring it to the State of
Alaska for road construction. While the over 55,000 acres offered contain important
wildlife habitat, they do not provide the wildlife diversity of the internationally
recognized wetland habitat of the Izembek isthmus. Simply exchanging lands will not
compensate for myriad ripple effects on habitat and wildlife due to uses on and beyond
the road, nor would new lands provide habitat for all the same species. State lands and
private lands adjacent to the refuge to be traded to the Service are under no foreseeable
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threat. While adding them to the National Wildlife Refuge System should insure longterm
protection; this would not compensate for the adverse effects of removing a corridor
of land and constructing a road within the narrow Izembek isthmus.
The road is proposed to connect the communities of King Cove and Cold Bay to
provide King Cove residents access to emergency medical and other services via the allweather
airport at Cold Bay. To address this concern, the 1997 King Cove Health and
Safety Act authorized funding for a marine link between the communities and
improvements to King Cove’s air strip and medical clinic. Congress recognized that
these funds were to provide emergency health and safety needs in the community as an
alternative to a road through the Izembek Refuge and Wilderness. In 1998 Congress
appropriated $37.5 million for these improvements to: 1) upgrade the medical clinic, 2)
improve the King Cove airstrip, and 3) create a transportation link between King Cove
and Cold Bay via a single lane, unpaved road from King Cove to a $10 million hovercraft
and terminal. Facilities were constructed and a hovercraft operated between the
communities from 2006 to 2010. During that time, the hovercraft successfully completed
every medical evacuation required during the periods each year it was operating.
Hovercraft service provided by the Aleutians East Borough was suspended in
November 2010. In November 2011 the Aleutians East Borough announced that
hovercraft service would not resume. Since operations began in 2007, the Aleutians East
Borough stated that there were issues with operability and reliable service from Lenard
Harbor. Revenue generated by operations did not meet initial projections. The Aleutian
East Borough reports the hovercraft lost $1 million annually when operating three days a
week and that they do not plan to operate it again. The Aleutians East Borough
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determined that it could not sustain these costs. With no further hovercraft service
planned for the community of King Cove, the hovercraft was modified and transferred to
Akutan in the Aleutian Islands in 2012 where it is supposed to provide a transportation
link between the City of Akutan and the Akutan Airport on Akun Island.
In a February 24, 2012 letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Aleutians
East Borough stated it is exploring an aluminum landing craft/passenger ferry to provide
a marine-road link between the communities of King Cove and Cold Bay if a land
exchange and road corridor is not approved. This letter states that “It is the fervent hope”
of the Aleutians East Borough, the City of King Cove, the King Cove Corporation and
the Agdaagux and Belkofski Tribes that the Secretary of the Interior will approve the land
exchange. If the Secretary does not approve the land exchange, the Aleutians East
Borough “will develop an alternative transportation link between King Cove and Cold
Bay. Any alternative we develop will include the utilization of the road to Northeast
Corner and associated facilities, now being constructed under the King Cove Health and
Safety Act . . .. A transportation link the Borough is exploring (and we believe holds
promise) is an aluminum landing craft/passenger ferry.” The Borough hopes that this type
of a transportation link could be more technically and financially viable than a hovercraft.
Thus a landing craft or other ferry or the hovercraft is a potential means of
providing emergency access; the economic choices relative to use of these vessels for
providing access are the purview of the Aleutians East Borough.
Public Involvement
We are releasing the final EIS for a 30-day public review period. We are not
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soliciting public comments at this time. The Service has afforded government agencies,
tribes, and the public extensive opportunity to participate in the preparation of this EIS.
We started the EIS for the Izembek Refuge land exchange/road corridor in August
2009. At that time and throughout the planning process, we requested public comments
and considered and incorporated them in numerous ways.
To gather additional input from the public, we held seven public open house
meetings—five in communities adjacent to or within the boundaries of the Izembek
Refuge; one in Washington, D.C.; and one in Anchorage, Alaska.
We considered and evaluated these issues and public concerns, and used them to
develop various aspects of the draft EIS. We published the draft EIS on March 19, 2012,
for public review. The comment period closed on May 18, 2012. During that time, we
held four face-to-face public meetings in Anchorage, Sand Point, Cold Bay, and King
Cove, Alaska and via a conference call with the communities of False Pass and Nelson
Lagoon, Alaska. All meetings were recorded and transcripts are available on the
Izembek website and in the final EIS.
Individuals and organizations provided a total of 71,960 comments during the
public comment period. The responses came in the form of e-mails, faxes, letters, and
public hearing transcripts. Approximately 76 people spoke at the six public meetings.
The comments were reviewed, coded, analyzed, and developed into statements of
concern. Comments were sorted into broad issue groups, including:
1. Regulatory compliance;
2. Purpose and need;
3. Proposed action, alternatives, and mitigation measures;
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4. Affected environment and environmental consequences; and
5. General.
We considered and evaluated these issues and public concerns, and used them to
develop various aspects of the final EIS.
Changes to the Final EIS
We made the following changes in the final EIS from the draft EIS:
No action: As indicated in the draft EIS, we have revised the no action
alternative in the final EIS. The Aleutians East Borough ceased to operate the hovercraft
and has indicated that if the Secretary does not approve the proposed road, they will
pursue a landing craft as a marine link between the Northeast corner to Cold Bay.
Therefore, we updated the no action to reflect the latest information provided by the
Aleutians East Borough.
Impact summaries: Some impacts were re-classified and are reflected in the
final EIS.
Socioeconomic data: The final EIS reflects the re-analysis of the
socioeconomic data with the 2010 census data. However, this re-analysis did not yield
any changes in the impact analysis.
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Comments
We are not soliciting comments at this time. This release is intended to allow the
public a period of review. Appendix C of the final EIS includes a summary report of
public comments received during the scoping period. Appendix G of the final EIS
contains a summary of public comments received on the draft EIS and the Service’s
responses to substantive comments, and includes samples of public comments received
on the draft EIS.
Next Steps
Following conclusion of the 30-day public review period, a Record of Decision
(ROD) will be signed, in which we disclose the Service’s final decision and any
conditions of approval. Availability of the ROD will be announced through the Federal
Register, a press release, the refuge’s web site, and communications with those on the
EIS mailing list.
_____________________________ _January 25, 2013_
Geoffrey L. Haskett Date
Regional Director
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Anchorage, Alaska
[FR Doc. 2013-02618 Filed 02/05/2013 at 8:45 am; Publication Date: 02/06/2013]