Story last updated at 3:05 p.m. Thursday, May 16, 2002

City beach policy in dry dock
By Joel Gay
Staff Writer

The city's new beach protection ordinance is high and dry until the city determines how much authority <> if any <> it has to restrict activities on beaches.

The law was shot down this winter when District Court Judge Francis Neville dismissed four cases against local men, saying she found parts of thje ordinance unclear or nonspecific. Rather than appeal her ruling, the city elected to rewrite the ordinance.

But the version that came back to the Homer City Council for review Monday night drew yet more questions, prompting the council to postpone action on it until the city gets legal advice from city attorney Gordon Tans.

The big question was how long a reach the city ordinance would have. The city itself owns some tidelands and storm berm areas, including much of the Spit, and there's no doubt the city has authority to prohibit such activities as removing driftwood from storm berms. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has title to a good portion of the beach and storm berm around Beluga Slough, and private landowners technically own the beaches west of there.

"If somebody owns a storm berm, we're going to have a hard time telling that person they can't do what they want," said Police Chief Mark Robl.

Councilman Mike Yourkowski, who was on the Beach Policy Task Force that formulated the original ordinance, said he thought the city had already determined it had authority to regulate beach activities, such as removing embedded driftwood or driving on storm berms.

Councilman Rick Ladd also objected to a section of the ordinance that says "No person will tamper with, burn or remove driftwood from a storm berm." The term "tamper with" leaves too much up to interpretation of the charging officer, he said.

Robl replied that he chose that term with Tans' help, saying it would help officers stop such actions as building structures out of driftwood.

"You have to expect your police officers are going to use discretion," he said.

The council sent the revised ordinance to Tans for review, and hopes to take it up again at its May 28 meeting.

In the meantime, the law remains on the books.

Council members also postponed action on a measure that City Manager Ron Drathman had sought <> the creation of a priority list that would help him determine what order to tackle projects the council assigns him.

Each council member ranked his or her own priorities from a list of projects seven pages long. The No. 1 priority was revising the city code to require conditional use permits for large structures, No. 2 was a new public library and No. 3 on the list of 70 projects was Bridge Creek watershed planning.

But on Monday, Mayor Jack Cushing led the council down a different path. He suggested they remove any project "with a life of its own" <> meaning that work had already started on it or the council had given Drathman some direction <> and cull those projects off the list. In a three-hour work session, the council trimmed 22 projects, although many that fit Cushing's criteria remained on the list.

The process confused several council members. Rick Ladd wanted to know why they were taking off the priority list projects that had started but were far from complete, such as his steep slope and bluff-erosion development standards.

"I have no idea where that stands now," he said.

Each council member will rank the projects again. The resulting priority list should reflect the council's priorities for future projects rather than ongoing work.

In other action, the council put $2,342 into the budget of the Town Square Task Force to help fund additional consulting work.

It also passed several resolutions with little or no comment, including one that cuts in half the terminal-use permit fee charged to all users of the Deepwater Dock or Pioneer Dock. In the past, those users <> including North Star Terminal and Stevedore, Icicle Seafoods and Kachemak Port Services <> paid the city 10 percent of the labor fees they charged their clients to dock at the city facilities.

In March, the city and North Star settled a years-old dispute that gave the city $105,000 in back payments, and cut the terminal use permit fee to 5 percent for the next five years. On Monday, the council extended that same reduction to the other dock users. The lower rates will cost the city some $17,000 a year.

The council also:

* Approved eight-month leases for the five waterfront businesses that had previously rented from city leaseholder Marty McGee, who lost his lease in February;

* Created a new sewer local improvement district for Hillside Acres and set Aug. 12 for a public hearing;

* Agreed to give the Anchorage engineering firm USKH Inc. a $62,400 contract to start studying why so much fresh water is entering the city sewer system, known as an infiltration and inflow study;

* Introduced a measure to hire a new police officer to replace Aaron Parker, who left for Seattle, and to boost a seasonal mechanic for the public works department to full time;

* Introduced a measure to accept a state grant for $20,304 that would bolster drunk-driving patrols this summer, and another authorizing the police department to spend nearly $5,000 as its match for a federal grant that supports the South Central Area Narcotics Team. Most of the city's contribution would come from assets seized in drug raids, Robl said;

* Introduced a measure to spend $30,000 on two mobile heart defibrillators for city ambulances. The units are discounted, according to Fire Chief Robert Painter, having been used as demonstration models during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The normal price is nearly $24,000 each.