State of the Beach/State Reports/AK

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Alaska

Summary

Special Note: An agreement to continue the Alaska Coastal Zone Management Program could not be reached during a Special Session in 2011 as the measure failed by one vote in the House before adjournment. As a result, the program expired on June 30, 2011, and the state lost the ability to have local input to the Federal government in important decisions on coastal development projects. This very unfortunate development was solidified when a second special session in late June failed to reach an agreement on continuing the program. In October 2011 it was reported that Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho had joined with Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Jerome Selby and Kenai Peninsula Borough Assemblyman Mako Haggerty to file an initiative petition application with state elections officials, seeking to hold a public vote in 2012 on the creation of a new coastal management program. In December 2011 the Juneau Empire reported: "Alaska voters will be asked to sign petitions reinstating the state’s Coastal Management Program and once again giving the state and local communities an official say in what happens in federal offshore waters." Unfortunately, the ballot measure to reestablish the Alaska Coastal Program (Prop 2) failed to garner enough votes for passage in Alaska's Primary Election in August 2012.

Alaska's immense size and small, dispersed coastal management staff make coastal management a challenge. Lack of both information and funding is an impediment to addressing coastal access needs, erosion problems, and water quality concerns. In addition to the urban runoff problems experienced by most coastal cities, water quality impairment in Alaska is also caused by large scale land-based operations such as the timber and mining industries and offshore sources including the oil and gas industry and cruise ships. There is only a limited recreational water quality testing program. Despite a high percentage of publicly owned coastal lands, coastal access is limited or not well publicized in many areas.

Alaska Ratings

Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access55
Water Quality23∗
Beach Erosion3-
Erosion Response-4
Beach Fill5-
Shoreline Structures3 5
Beach Ecology1-
Surfing Areas28
Website1∗∗-
Special comments:

∗Since the water quality monitoring program in Alaska only exists on a limited basis, the recreational water quality is largely unknown. Only 117 samples were tested for the state in 2013.

∗∗The Alaska Coastal Management Program (ACMP) is scheduled to sunset at 12:01 AM, Alaska Standard Time, on July 1, 2011 per AS 44.66.030. The Legislature adjourned the special legislative session May 14, 2011 without passing legislation required to extend the Alaska Coastal Management Program (ACMP). This webpage will be viewable for reference purposes through June 30, 2012. It will then be archived within the Department of Natural Resources. Beginning on July 1, 2011 the website will remain static and there will be no further updates to the content of the former ACMP website. If you have any questions, please contact the DNR’s Commissioner’s Office at 907-269-8400.


Indicators

(+) In September 2015 the Alaska Shoreline Change Tool was launched. This online mapping tool lets viewers look at past erosion and see where coastlines might be in future years. It was created by Alex Gould, a geologist for Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys (DGGS). Over the previous year, Gould created clickable shoreline maps for Port Heiden, Unalakleet, Wales, Kivalina, and four other locations on the Beaufort and eastern Chukchi sea coasts. In the near future DGGS may add online maps for Shaktoolik, Nome, and Hooper Bay, among other communities.

(+) The Alaska ShoreZone Coastal Inventory and Mapping Project, a unique partnership between government agencies, NGOs, and private industry, has been flying helicopters along the entire Alaska shoreline each summer since 2001, collecting high-resolution imagery and detailed classifications of the coast's geologic features and intertidal biological communities. ShoreZone has surveyed Alaskan coasts at extreme low tide, collecting aerial imagery and environmental data for roughly 80% of Alaska's coastal habitats and continues to move towards full coverage each year. This is a great accomplishment, but ShoreZone, with help from NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, has done an equally impressive job at making their entire inventory accessible to the public. For the Office of Response and Restoration, ShoreZone is an invaluable tool that serves alongside NOAA's Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps and data as a baseline for the coastal habitats of Alaska and is currently being used for environmental planning, preparedness, and Natural Resource Damage Assessment planning in Alaska.

(+) NOAA's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) approved Alaska's amended Coastal Management Program in December 2005. Unfortunately, the program was terminated in 2011 (see below).

(+) Approximately 87% of Alaska's shoreline is publicly owned

(0) In July 2015 the U.S. Geological Survey published a report National Assessment of Shoreline Change: Historical Shoreline Change Along the North Coast of Alaska, U.S.-Canadian Border to Icy Cape. USGS scientists found that the remote northern Alaska coast has some of the highest shoreline erosion rates in the world.

(0) Alaska has 6,640 miles of open ocean coastline

(0) Eighty-five percent of the state's population lives within coastal counties

(0) Alaska has a tremendous diversity of water resources, including 365,000 miles of rivers and streams, at least 170 million acres of wetlands, more than a million lakes larger than five acres, and 44,226 miles of coastal shoreline waters.

(0) A limited surf zone water quality monitoring program began to be implemented in Alaska during Summer 2007.

(-) 31 Alaskan villages face “imminent threat of destruction” from climate change induced erosion and flooding, the Arctic Institute finds.

(-) In February 2013 the Alaska Legislature moved towards rolling back pollution standards voted into law by the 2006 cruise-ship initiative, allowing cruise vessels to dump ammonia, copper and other contaminants into Alaska waters. In a related note, the Environmental Protection Agency levied a $20,000 fine on Princess Cruises for releasing wastewater into Glacier Bay.

(-) An agreement to continue the Alaska Coastal Zone Management Program could not be reached during a Special Session in 2011 as the measure failed by one vote in the House before adjournment. As a result, the program terminated on June 30, 2011, and the state lost the ability to have local input to the Federal government in important decisions on coastal development projects. This very unfortunate development was solidified when a second special session in late June failed to reach an agreement on continuing the program.

(-) Sewage treatment in Anchorage at the John M. Asplund Wastewater Treatment Facility consists only of primary treatment, with 32 million gallons per day pumped out an 800-foot-long pipe into Cook Inlet. Kenai, Palmer, Soldotna, and Homer treat their wastewater to secondary standards using biological methods to decompose waste before it is returned to the natural environment. Eagle River and Girdwood sewage treatment facilities are capable of tertiary treatment, rendering wastewater to almost drinkable quality. Anchorage stands alone as the city most befouling Cook Inlet.

(-) In a 2009 report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 178 Alaska communities were found to have reported erosion problems. 26 communities were designated “Priority Action Communities” — indicating that they should be considered for immediate action by either initiating an evaluation of potential solutions or continuing with ongoing efforts to manage erosion.

(-) On average, Alaska's coastline is eroding at a rate of 8 feet per year, and this rate could increase in areas where sea level rise exceeds the rate of isostatic rebound.

(-) Alaska has only about one public access site for every 12 miles of shoreline

Victories

To see all of Surfrider Foundation's coastal victories and campaigns, go here.


State of the Beach Report: Alaska
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