Imagine you wake up tomorrow morning as usual: After coffee and a little breakfast you decide it’s time to check the mail and do some other errands about town. On your way into the post office you notice the upcoming services for a longtime Alaskan who has passed on. You stop and reflect on the years of hard work and toil he put into an early Alaska, building a way for generations to follow — a truly rugged way of life carved out of a wild land.
You open the door and walk into the post office, brushing past the mayor of your little town who says hello and calls you by name.
After some small talk you head to your box and remove the contents. It’s the usual junk mail and magazines you don’t remember subscribing to, and a hefty manila envelope from the Kenai Peninsula Borough — nothing that can’t wait until you get back to your car.
Once in the driver’s seat you place your correspondence on the passenger seat. You start the car and are about to shift into gear when you remember the KPB envelope. It’s not tax season, what could it be?
You reach over and again take stock of the weight; this is a thick packet. You slide your knife through the top flap and open the parcel. Inside is a bound booklet of at least 80 pages; its title is “On the River.”
As you leaf through the hefty document filled with rules and terms and maps and drawings, you realize the borough must be mistaken as you don’t own land on any river; but you do own a lot on Caribou Lake. Better look through this a little closer when you get home.
Sure enough, you’ve just been notified of a new borough ordinance that restricts your usage of your property for 50 feet back from the water’s edge. While the packet says “On the River,” it really encompasses your lake lot as well.
This is exactly what happened to many hundreds of private property owners due to the passage of Ordinance 2011-12 by the Kenai Peninsula Borough without any written notification to property owners — until after passage.
Some are arguing that to expand the borough’s jurisdiction through the River Center from 600 waterfront miles to more than 2,700 is the appropriate measure to take in order to protect the salmon habitat — and yet there is no evidence that private property owners are to blame for the destruction of salmon habitat.
And if this ordinance is warranted and there is sufficient science to back it up, why not notify property owners of the impending legislation that could very well criminalize their traditional usage of their land without applying for a now required permit? For example, a sauna that has been on the lakeshore for 35 years, now will require a permit to be applied for every two years or the owner will face a $300 per day fine, according to what one property owner was told.
Are salmon and their habitat vital to Alaska? Absolutely. Is notice to private property owners important to our constitutionally protected way of life in America? Absolutely.
The Fifth Amendment guarantees you will not “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
At a minimum each private property owner affected by the passage of 2011-12 should have been afforded written notice in advance and allowed a seat at the table to discuss the legislation and provide public testimony.
To allow 2011-12 to stand now after its erroneous beginning is a dangerous precedent to set. This is similar to getting caught stealing in a store, then attempting to negotiate how much of the product you get to keep. You must go back to the beginning and start over.
I’m urging you to support the repeal of 2011-12; send a message to your elected officials that your rights do matter. Repeal this law now; for next it could be you checking the mail and what might you find has been taken from you while you slept?
Chris Story is the owner-broker of Story Real Estate and the host of Alaska Matters, a radio show that airs every Tuesday on KGTL AM620.