Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 3:37 PM on Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Stream protection ordinance OK'd

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer

Expanding protection already given other streams in the Kenai Peninsula Borough was given a seven-to-two vote by the assembly at its June 21 meeting.

In addition to portions of the Kenai River, 10 tributaries of the Kenai River and 14 additional streams within the east side of Cook Inlet already protected by the borough, Ordinance 2011-12, sponsored by Bill Smith of Homer established a 50-foot setback from the ordinary high water mark of salmon spawning and rearing habitat for:

• Anadromous streams identified in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's "Atlas and Catalogue of Waters Important for Spawning, Rearing or Migration of Anadromous Fish," including, on the southern peninsula, Ninilchik River, Deep Creek, Stariski Creek, Anchor River, Seldovia River, English Bay River, Bradley River and the North Fork of the Anchor River; and

• All anadromous waterbodies within the municipal boundaries of the Kenai Peninsula Borough listed in that same document of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Smith advocated for the ordinance by stating there would be ways to "deal with resource development and protect our fish habitat" at the same time.

"By trying to establish rules for behavior early on before development occurs, people can develop their property and not lose their rights, but that will provide some early protection so that we will have a long-term fishery," said Smith.

Sue Mauger of Homer, science director for Cook Inletkeeper, was eager to see the ordinance take effect.

"This is a great ordinance. The sooner we institute it, the better," she said.

Smith has been fine-tuning the ordinance for more than two years as personnel at the Donald E. Gilman River Center have evaluated the borough's earlier river protection efforts approved by the assembly in 2000. The multi-agency center, located in Soldotna, includes offices for the borough's habitat protection administrators, floodplain administrator and coastal district coordinator, as well as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Habitat, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Kenai Watershed Forum.

"That has been in effect for 10 years or more, so they wanted to look at how effective the permitting was, what were enforcement problems and the status of how everything was working," said Smith. "It took them about a year or more to work it out."

He also looked at the land impacted, including privately owned parcels. Prior to the ordinance, streams along 3,797 private parcels were being managed. Passage of the ordinance added 871.

"It turned out there weren't a huge number of additional private parcels, even though it's a pretty significant amount of stream length. Most of it turned out to be borough, state or federal government land, that sort of thing," said Smith.

Assembly member Brent Johnson said he had heard the cost of administering the ordinance would be "somewhere around $150,000." He compared that number to the estimate that fishing on the peninsula is a "$1 billion a year industry."

"Comparing $900 million or $1 billion to an addition of $150,000 — that's not only a bargain, that's a responsibility," he said.

He said "imitating nature is dang hard to do," and what the assembly should do, "dramatically, is to protect nature and protect the fish in the streams."

"It is dangerous to lose these fish and it is exampled in rivers in London, in France ... on the East Coast, on the West Coast — how many examples do you want to have?" Johnson said. "I don't want to lose fish in the Kenai Peninsula Borough if I can help it."

Voting against the ordinance were assembly members Charlie Pierce of Sterling and Assembly President Gary Knopp of Kenai. At the meeting, Pierce said the ordinance was "missing the mark" and that the borough should focus on over-fishing instead of "adding another level" of government.

Knopp agreed, adding concerns about the cost of administering the added stream protections, the assembly having not "vetted all of the consequences," and the ordinance simply not being the right "tool."

"I guess my belief is that the habitat degradation isn't the primary cause of our problem today and by enacting this legislation, you can't fix the wrongs of the past," said Knopp.

In response to concerns about over-fishing, Smith said, "I think it's pretty clear that when you listen to the scientists and Fish and Game people that testified, protection is important to keep survival numbers up. I don't think anybody necessarily said it's only about over-fishing."

Pointing to the borough's lack of powers to regulate fishing, Mauger said, "I don't think that's a reasonable argument to stop the borough from doing what they should do because they have complaints about Fish and Game management. If over-fishing is really the most significant issue right how, hopefully Fish and Game will sort that out. If, in the meantime, the borough hasn't taken care of habitat, it'll be too late."

Some opposition to the ordinance raised concern about activities within the 50-foot setback which are allowed by Borough Code Chapter 21.18, anadromous streams habitat protection, or which are governed by other agencies.

"All public comments have to be taken seriously, but when someone says you're going to shut down everything and you can't fish or pick berries and it obviously isn't true, their concerns aren't well founded," said Smith. "There was a group of miners who were pretty concerned (the ordinance) would effect them, but it turned out where that industry was working was regulated by Fish and Game and not by the ordinance."

Excluded from the ordinance are portions of waterways found within the Seward-Bear Creek Flood Service area which, according to Smith, are graded, glacially fed streams that flood frequently.

"Because of that, the mean high water can move from one year to another, 100-150 feet. So trying to administer the way our code is written would not work very well," said Smith.

Mako Haggerty, who represents areas of the southern peninsula excluding Homer, said the borough has an obligation to protect the habitats it can.

"There is no magic pill, but we do what we can, and we do what we have to, and protect what we can and what this body can do ... is protect what little bit of habitat is under our control," he said.

Smith suggested the assembly's action might inspire a similar effort beyond borough boundaries.

"Someone observed that this is really the type of ordinance Fish and Game should enact statewide," he said.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.

Brian Smith of the Peninsula Clarion contributed to this story.