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City of Homer awaits approval to dredge wetlands

The Beluga Slough Wetlands on May 31, 2024. The slough has been flooded with water all spring while the city awaits one more permit to dredge the wetlands.

Posted on June 3, 2024

The Beluga Slough Wetlands is a popular birding spot and is also a go-to site for the City of Homer’s stormwater discharge. But this year the area has been flooded all spring.

The slough normally releases water into Kachemak Bay through Bishop’s Beach, but tides can fill that opening with sediment and keep water from draining out of the wetlands.

The wetlands have been flooded for months and a new opening is releasing water that erodes private property. Those property owners used to dredge the slough and redirect water to the beach themselves, but they turned to the city to complete the process this year.

Dan Kort is the city’s public works director. He said they took on the task because the slough collects much of the city’s stormwater.

“If the slough isn’t draining naturally, and doing the tidal flush, we have the potential risk of the stormwater drainages backing up and threatening some flooding intermittently,” he said.

He said the nearby sewer lift station would have to treat additional water from the flooded slough.

In order to dredge the slough, Kort said the city needs to get permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Preserve, as well as three different permits from the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has already approved the two they’re in charge of. Kort said he expects the Army Corps of Engineers to approve their last needed permit by July.

He said the actual dredging process is straightforward. The city already regularly dredges another wetland at the base of the Homer Spit, and Kort said draining the Beluga Slough would take roughly the same amount of effort and money to complete, about four to five thousand dollars.

“It’s a very small and easy project to do. The permitting and getting permission to do it from multiple agencies is the longest part of the process,” he said, “but in defense of those agencies, they have a lot of permits to process and probably not a lot of staff to do it.”

Michael Guttery is a waterfowl biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He visited the slough earlier in the spring and said extra water in the area has some ecological benefits.

“If you were a dabbling duck like our mallards or pintail, it may have actually been good for them because we were actually down there this spring and waded out into the flooded slew,” he said, “and it was, throughout much of it was sort of an ideal feeding depth for waterfowl or for ducks, and even for some of the geese.”

He said the flooding would reduce space for shorebirds to find food though. Guttery said in an email that the department doesn’t have data on the extent of the impact on bird populations.

Once the city can begin the project, Kort expects the dredging will only take a couple days, and water can drain regularly from the slough again.


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