Mt. Juneau avalanche risk “unacceptable,” report says

A 1962 avalanche on Mt. Juneau damaged cars and homes along Behrends Avenue. Photo courtesy City and Borough of Juneau.

Avalanches from Mt. Juneau pose an “unacceptable” risk to Capital City residents and property, according to a report being presented to the Juneau Assembly tonight (Monday).

Consultants from the Switzerland-based WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research were hired by CBJ Emergency Programs Manager Tom Mattice to examine the Behrends Avenue and White Subdivision paths and recommended mitigation strategies.

The report says the most effective way to reduce avalanche risk from the Behrends path is to have the city buy at least 28 homes in the neighborhood below, and prohibit future development there – a recommendation the Assembly has heard before. The report says the buyout should be done in phases, targeting the most at-risk homes first.

In the meantime, it recommends mandatory evacuations and closure of Glacier Highway and Egan Drive when avalanche danger is most severe.

The consultants concluded that Juneau Douglas High School would not sustain any damage, even from the largest possible avalanches.

Also tonight (Monday), the Assembly will receive the first draft of an AJ Mine related water study.

The Assembly directed the CBJ Engineering Department to do the study last year after a citizens committee looked at what it would take to re-open the old mine near downtown. The AJ ore body, which is partially owned by the city, sits beneath and adjacent to Juneau’s main source of drinking water – Gold Creek in Last Chance Basin. If the city moves forward with efforts to re-open the mine, the AJ committee recommended efforts to reduce the risk to the water system.

The study discusses five scenarios, ranging from no action – meaning no mining and no change to the water system – to efforts to make the city’s secondary water source, Salmon Creek, into a year round supply. One option is to abandon the Gold Creek supply and build a new system. But the study says this is the most expensive scenario and the city would have difficulty identifying an acceptable alternative source of drinking water.

Moving forward with an initial decision on re-opening the AJ Mine is one of the Assembly’s priorities this year.

CBJ Engineering Director Rorie Watt will be available tonight to answer Assembly questions. The next step will be to gather public comment, due March 28th. Comments can be submitted to the Engineering Department, and Watt will hold a public meeting to discuss the study next Wednesday, March 7th.

The Assembly will receive both reports tonight (Monday) at a Committee of the Whole work session scheduled to start at 6:30 in City Hall Assembly Chambers.

Links:

Behrends Avenue and White Subdivision Avalanche Mitigation Report

AJ Mine Related Water Study