Coast Guard Wants To Install Search-And-Rescue Communication Towers At Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

The U.S. Coast Guard is seeking National Park Service approval to install one or two search-and-rescue communication towers in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

One of the proposed sites is located in the Deception Hills area of the national preserve and would provide communication capability for the Fairweather Banks area of the Gulf of Alaska. A second proposed site would provide improved communication capability for the inside waters of Glacier Bay proper, according to the Park Service.

A typical installation consists of a 40- to 60-foot self-supporting tower with microwave dish, generator shed, fuel and battery storage, communication shed, wind generator, solar panel array, and, for the Deception Hills site, a 12-foot x 12-foot helicopter landing pad, the agency explained.

The NPS and USCG will be preparing an Environmental Assessment that will consider a range of alternatives and analyze the consequences and effects of each on park and preserve resources.

Public comment on this matter is being taken through November 20. You can find a little more information on the project, and be able to comment on it, at this site.

Here's a copy of a letter explaining the need for the communication facilities:

Dear Interested Party:

The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Park Service are seeking your input on a proposal to permit, construct, operate and maintain search and rescue communication facilities in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

The National Park Service has received a Right-of-Way application under ANILCA 1310(b) from the U.S. Coast Guard to site up to two facilities within the Park and Preserve. One proposed site is located on the park’s outer coast in the Deception Hills area within the Glacier Bay National Preserve. A second proposed site would be located within designated wilderness surrounding Glacier Bay at either the existing NPS radio repeater site at Beartrack Mountain or on Willoughby Island.

Why is the Coast Guard Proposing New Facilities?

The U.S. Coast Guard has identified the need to modernize and replace its antiquated maritime search and rescue communications system in Alaska as part of a nationwide mandate. New locations and new equipment will fill existing coverage gaps in Very High Frequency (VHF-FM) marine communications used for Coast Guard operational missions, including search and rescue, maritime pollution prevention and response, maritime law enforcement, and homeland security. The system, known as “Rescue 21,” is the maritime equivalent of a “911” communications system, enhancing maritime safety by helping to minimize the time that search and rescue teams spend looking for people in distress.

Additionally, the National Park Service has identified areas where communications are typically poor. Some of the Park’s management objectives that could be achieved through a coordinated project are:

Provide improved ability to respond to environmental emergencies and protect park resources,
Provide visitors with a safe and enjoyable visit, and
Determine if facilities such as Rescue 21 installations are necessary, appropriate and consistent with the area’s setting and purpose as directed by ANILCA Section 1310(b).

These facilities would provide improved day-to-day operational (command and control) capabilities for both the Coast Guard and the National Park Service.

What is the U.S. Coast Guard Proposing?

The proposed action is to install Coast Guard VHF-FM communication sites in the vicinity of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Southeast Alaska. One facility would provide radio coverage for the Fairweather Banks region of the Gulf of Alaska, and has the potential of providing VHF and telephone service to the Dry Bay area. The second facility would provide additional VHF radio coverage for the inside waters of Glacier Bay and improve radio coverage for Muir Inlet and Tarr Inlet.

A typical communications facility for these areas would include two 12’ long x 13’ wide x 16’ high solar arrays, a 10’x 16’ generator hut, a 8’ x 10’ communication hut, an approximately 60’ self-supporting tower, a wind generator and tower, a ten (10) 500 gal. propane tank array, and a 16’ x 16’ helicopter pad depending on terrain.

Enclosed are maps displaying the proposed sites.

What Happens Next?

The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Park Service will conduct the required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance measures to decide whether to issue the ROW permit and to authorize the construction, operation, and maintenance of those facilities. This Environmental Assessment (EA) will analyze the effects of construction, including the staging and mobilization of materials and construction forces, and the eventual operation and annual maintenance that would be performed. The EA will also examine the advantages and disadvantages of co-locating NPS radio communication equipment in the same facilities.

The U.S. Coast Guard will prepare written project proposals and potential environmental effects in accord with the National Environmental Policy Act (40 CFR 1500-1508) and as required by USCG COMDTINST M16475.1D, and the NPS DO-12 Handbook.

A preliminary review of communication coverage identified potential locations for remote fixed facilities. Options for staging materials and mobilizing construction workforces will also be included in the EA analyses. The proposed facilities were analyzed for reception from a 1-watt radio held 2 meters above the surface of the water. The potential locations would not require new repeater facilities to connect (link) into the existing Coast Guard system. Radio coverage using more powerful equipment was also analyzed to gauge the ability of larger vessels to communicate during emergency situations.

Alternatives to the proposed action may be developed depending on issues identified during this initial “scoping” period. At this time, we would like to hear any comments, issues, and concerns you have that would help shape or further develop the project proposals.

We are contacting you so your concerns or ideas can be considered early in the development of the project proposals. Your comments will be most useful if they are received by November 20, 2009. However, comments will be accepted and reviewed up until the time the decisions on the projects are made.

Please send comments to William Freeland, Environmental Protection Specialist, U.S. Coast Rescue 21 PRO Alaska, 100 Savikko Rd., Douglas, AK 99824. Comments may be written, sent by e-mail (William.A.Freeland@uscg.mil), or faxed to this address at 907-463-2959 (Attention: Glacier Bay Rescue 21 Communication Facilities). Questions may be directed to William Freeland at 907-463-2955 or to Allison Banks, Glacier Bay National Park, at 907-697-2611. Comments may also be submitted using this website. Please indicate whether you wish to receive future updates and documents related to this project and how you wish to receive them (hard copy, email notices, view by website, etc).

This is not the only opportunity you will have to comment on this project. When the EA has been prepared and distributed, you will have an opportunity to make further comments. If you would like to be kept informed about this project, please complete and return the attached “Interest Response Form” and you will be placed on the mailing list.

Pursuant to 7 CFR Part 1, Subpart B, Section 1.27, all written submissions in response to this notice will be made available for public inspection, including the submitter’s name and address, unless the submitter specifically requests confidentiality. If you wish to withhold your name or address from public review or from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, you must state this at the beginning of your written comment. Such requests will be honored to the extent allowed by law. All submissions from organizations or businesses submitted on official letterheads and from individuals identifying themselves as representatives or officials of organizations or businesses will be made available for public inspection in their entirety.

Sincerely,

Joseph S. Calnan, Commander
Commanding Officer
US Coast Guard Rescue 21
Douglas, Alaska

Cherry Payne, Superintendent
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
Gustavus, Alaska