Municipalities across the Kenai Peninsula are slated to consider asking the Alaska Board of Fisheries hold the 2017 Upper Cook Inlet Finfish meetings on the Kenai Peninsula.
Joint Resolution No. 1 is expected to come before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and the Kenai, Soldotna, Homer, Seldovia and Seward city councils by Sept. 10.
Kenai City Manager Rick Koch, who attended the 2014 fish board meetings in Anchorage, said he invited the board to return to the Kenai Peninsula since many of the management issues pertain to area fishermen.
“It would make sense since 80 percent of the discussions are peninsula based,” he said. “Peninsula residents are involved from every facet whether they are sport fishermen, setnetters or drifters.”
According to the joint resolution, “Holding the meeting on the Kenai Peninsula would show local residents, businesses and communities that the Board of Fisheries listens, cares about and understands the local impacts of its decisions.”
The resolution will come before the borough assembly at its Sept. 2 meeting and Kenai on Sept. 3. The Soldotna City Council did not get the resolution on its Wednesday agenda and City Clerk Shellie Saner said she could not confirm if it would be on the next meeting agenda.
A location for the 2017 Upper Cook Inlet finfish meetings will be announced after a work session Oct. 15-17 in Juneau, said Alaska Board of Fisheries Executive Director Glenn Haight. The board addresses Upper Cook Inlet issues every three years.
Testimony will not be heard at the work sessions, but people are encouraged to submit written comments online and have until Oct. 1 for the board’s consideration, Haight said.
While Haight has only served as board director for one year, he said last year’s meetings drew a lot of attention from the Kenai area.
“We like to have the meeting in a central location and we get a batch of folks from the Mat-Su Valley so Anchorage is seen as an in-between,” he said.
Some of the factors the board looks for include: commercial jet service, high speed Internet, adequate dining, meeting room, transportation, hotels, hospital, relationship to community, travel time, economic and cultural importance to location.
Haight said a location that is comfortable and helps the board make the best-informed decision would be ideal.
“Our main job is to hold meetings the public has access to, that is comfortable and has light and heat,” Haight said.
Koch said there are multiple venues on the Kenai Peninsula that would suit all the board’s criteria and he intends to go to Juneau and speak with individual board members during breaks in the work session meetings.
Fish board meetings could bring in 400 visitors along with 50 staff members during a two-week period, which would be a boon for local hotels and restaurants during the winter season, Koch said.
“It would provide better opportunities for access and participation for many residents involved without the added burden and expense to travel to Anchorage and spend multiple nights in a hotel,” Koch said.
No location on the peninsula has been determined, but the venue would need to be large enough to hold more than 400 people. Koch said having the meetings held in the area could be a benefit for local school to learn about the government management process.
The Soldotna Regional Sports Complex has adequate space but the Kenai River Brown Bears hockey team plays home games in the arena and the logistics of having two weeks blocked out without a sheet of ice on the main surface would need to be figured out for that place to be a potential location, Koch said.
It’s been 15 years since the last full fish board meetings were held on the central Kenai Peninsula at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. The two-week meetings almost changed locations because several board members were concerned for their safety.
The chair of the board at the time Dr. John White had requested a neutral site the spring prior to the meetings amid safety concerns, according to a Peninsula Clarion story dated Feb. 17, 1999. Soldotna police officers were on hand for security measures.
In a March 3, 1999 story, vice chair Dan Coffey said, “These were probably the toughest meetings this board has ever had and probably ever will have.”
Soldotna resident Ken Tarbox, a retired research biologist for the Department of Fish and Game, said the meetings in 1999 were blown way out of proportion. Tarbox said relations with the board members were calm and cordial.
Tarbox recalled one instance in which a user group member had a verbal discussion and raised his voice, but no threats or charges resulted.
“There is always tension when user groups are involved,” he said. “I talked with some of the officers who were bored to death.”
Tarbox said the board has been invited back to the Kenai Peninsula on several occasions. He said board members want to sit in Anchorage because most of them don’t want to deal with the public feedback that comes from the Kenai Peninsula.
“The bottom line is the participation from the public ‘Joe Fisherman’ would be better represented, but the board doesn’t want to confront them,” he said. “The argument that Anchorage is a central location is bogus. Wasilla is an hour drive, while Kenai is three hours away in the middle of winter.”
Tarbox said he has attended about 25 fish board meetings over the years and the one hosted in Soldotna was not different than any other he’s attended.
“Voices are raised because people are passionate about subsistence fishing,” he said. “It is about time the meeting is here.”
Dan Balmer is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.