U.S. Fish & Wildlife considering Trident’s request to replace bunkhouse dock, possibly disturb hundreds of sea otters in Kodiak

Trident Seafoods is requesting a temporary exception to the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) so it can replace its bunkhouse dock along the western shore of Near Island Channel, in downtown Kodiak. The company’s work could potentially disturb a population of approximately 460 northern sea otters in the area.

Trident currently owns three of the 14 shore-based processing facilities in Kodiak. Although the company is selling its main Star of Kodiak plant, it has committed to finishing the bunkhouse replacement project which houses up to 64 of its 350 employees in Kodiak.

Trident plans to remove the existing dock and install a new one in order to replace its bunkhouse, decreasing from 235 piles and concrete deck surface to 98 piles. Trident’s bunkhouse is located adjacent to the main processing plant.

Trident bunkhouse dock replacement project location is outlined in yellow on this map of downtown Kodiak. (Trident application documents/USFWS)

The bunkhouse was already demolished last year, and the company had plans to replace the pilings and the dock in October but had to wait on permits, such as an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA). The Trident Bunkhouse Dock was built in 1964 immediately after the devastating earthquake and according to the company’s IHA application, it has been minimally upgraded since its construction.

Heather Patterson is a wildlife biologist with the Marine Mammals Management office in Anchorage under the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. She is also the lead author on this particular Incidental Harassment Authorization or IHA. She explained why a company like Trident needs to apply for an incidental harassment authorization in the first place.

“So, under the Marine Mammal Protection Act disturbing the behaviors or potentially injuring a marine mammal is prohibited,” Patterson said. “However, there are exceptions to this. And so operators [like Trident] who need to undertake work that might disrupt a marine mammals’ behavior, can apply to have that take authorized.”

All incidental harassment authorizations are temporary and typically last up to one year.

There are different levels of ‘incidental take’, which the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) defines as lethal take, Level A harassment and Level B harassment. Trident’s application is for what’s called a Level B incidental harassment, and the company would not be permitted to incidentally kill the animals.

“Level B harassment is an act that has potential to, and I’m paraphrasing here, disturb biologically important behaviors such as breeding, breathing, foraging [you know eating], resting, nursing. Those sorts of things,” Patterson explained.

Trident’s application, however, notes that the company’s work could injure or harass sea otters through excessive noise.
The U.S Fish & Wildlife Service set a noise threshold for Level B harassment of northern sea otters at 160 decibels. Trident’s pile driving work is expected to exceed that at times.

A spokesperson for Trident told KMXT via email: “Trident is proceeding with replacing the existing dock at its Kodiak plant with an identical square footage and footprint dock. An engineered solution with pre-fabricated steel support and larger steel pilings will achieve the same load-bearing capacity with fewer pilings. Reducing the number of pilings minimizes the potential impact on wildlife during construction. In addition, the new design is more efficient to maintain and has a longer projected useful life than the existing asset, further reducing potential future construction impacts.”
And according to the company’s application filed with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Trident wants to start work on its bunkhouse dock in March with the intent of continuing through June of this year.

But before Trident can begin construction, its application must go through a public comment period and review process, then the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will make its final decision.

The proposed authorization for the bunkhouse dock replacement is currently available online in the Federal Register.

The public comment period closes on Feb. 26.

UPDATE: A previous version of this story had no comment from Trident. But after publishing the article on Feb. 20, a spokesperson for Trident sent an emailed statement to KMXT to be included in this story. The article has been updated to include this comment from Trident.

Check Also

Record rainfall causes a mudslide into a mudroom of a home in Kodiak, warns of higher risk of future landslides

Heavy rain drenched hillsides and flooded rivers around Kodiak last week. According to the National …

%d bloggers like this: