Borough to restore bank behind River Center

Borough to restore bank behind River Center

A heavily trafficked stretch of the Kenai River’s southern bank will get some restoration work in time for the sockeye season.

Fishermen who have visited the stretch of the Kenai River behind the Donald E. Gilman River Center in Soldotna may have noticed crumbling banks depositing silt into the stream. At the peak of the sockeye salmon run in July, anglers will be lined up for nearly half a mile upstream and downstream of the metal stairs that lead down from an access trail behind the River Center’s parking lot. Close to town, with infrastructure for fishing and free of charge, it’s one of the most popular fishing spots on the middle Kenai River.

All the traffic, though, has resulted in habitat damage. Salmon depend on sufficient bank vegetation and gravel beds in the river for habitat, and as the bank erodes, it can reduce salmon habitat and thus returns over time.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly at its Tuesday meeting accepted a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with a match from the River Center’s budget for a total of $75,000 to repair approximately 500 linear feet of bank there. Fish and Wildlife contributed half, at $37,500, with an equal match from the borough. The money had already been appropriated for 2017, so no additional appropriation is necessary, according to a memo from River Center Manager Tom Dearlove to the assembly.

“… This completed restoration project may be used to illustrate four to five different techniques in riverbank restoration, furthering public awareness and understanding of the causes and detriments of near-shore erosion, as well as the benefits of habitat protection,” he wrote.

The borough hopes to get the work finished by June 30. The invitation to bid should go out by Friday, said Dearlove, who’s overseeing the project. Most of the contractors who do riverbank restoration can work fairly quickly, and the access at the center with the parking lot and road access will make it easier, he said.

“It will be the entire length of the bank here behind the River Center,” he said.

The Kenai Peninsula is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state, especially for sportfishing. Because it’s close to town and free, the River Center can see up to 100 people at a time in a summer day, with more coming and going, Dearlove said. The center’s had issues with parking in the past and tries to keep sportfishing parking confined to the eastern side of the parking lot, with the front reserved for parking for staff and visitors to the center.

Dearlove said the managers try to redo the revetment on the riverbank every two to three years to keep it up.

“(This section of bank) has been one that we pretty closely monitor,” he said. “ …That is one goal of mine, to keep that up.”

The River Center also recently completed a more permanent bathroom facility near the top of the trail, replacing the seasonal toilets placed there each year. There are also permanent stairs down to the river and salmon cleaning tables provided for fishermen. Though the borough doesn’t make any money off the fishing site and there have been issues with parking in the lot, Dearlove said he wanted to see the access point stay open for visitors.

The River Center is looking at a busy permitting year for restoration work along he Kenai River after thick ice damaged some structures left in the water, Dearlove said. The Kenai Peninsula saw a series of mild winters up until 2016–2017, when things looked a bit more normal for Alaska. As a result, some people’s docks or river stairs were damaged by the moving ice, he said.

This year, there was less snowfall in the mountains, so there may be more time for people to do projects near the river before the water levels start rising. Last year, though the snowpack on the lower Kenai Peninsula was low, the snowfall in the mountains was exceptionally high and led to elevated river levels early in the season.

“This is usually our busy time when private landowners are getting permits and getting work done,” he said.

In early May, the River Center will host a free class for landowners and interested people who want to learn about habitat protection and restoration. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game hosts a series called the Streambank Rehabilitation Workshops that offer information on riparian habitat rehabilitation and restoration, habitat needs, construction techniques and a hands-on installation of a shoreline rehabilitation project. In Soldotna, the workshop will take place May 9-10.

Those who wish to attend can RSVP by calling 267-2403 or emailing tracy.smith@alaska.gov.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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