Borough’s anadromous streams protections survive another challenge

  • By Rashah McChesney
  • Wednesday, July 8, 2015 3:26pm
  • News

When it’s all tallied up, members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly spent well over 6 hours listening to testimony on an ordinance that would have repealed portions of the borough’s controversial riparian habitat protection program.

But that time is a drop in the long stream of oral and written public comment that has come before the borough assembly since it voted to expand habitat protections on anadromous streams in 2011. Assembly president Dale Bagley and members Wayne Ogle and Kelly Wolf introduced an ordinance in May which would have dramatically scaled back the number of water bodies on the Kenai Peninsula currently subject to the 50-foot anadromous habitat setback. Instead, the proposed rule would have focused protections on the Kenai and Kasilof watersheds.

The setback was born from an anadromous streams habitat protection measure that first covered about 600 stream miles before it was expanded in June 2011 to include an additional 2,317 stream miles in the borough. The measure protects the near-stream habitat of all the borough’s anadromous streams and lakes — where fish migrate from sea to spawn in fresh water — 50 feet up from the bank.

The idea is to protect habitat and therefore salmon, according to advocates of the setback. But opponents say the measure is restrictive, is an overreach of the borough’s powers and violates personal property rights.

Since the 2011 expansion, the borough’s anadromous streams protections have faced a number of challenges, including a petition application in 2012 that would have led to a citizen vote deciding the fate of the anadromous protections. Another in 2013, brought forward by assembly member Kelly Wolf, would have repealed the anadromous streams ordinance.

The latest challenge drew many of the same arguments as it has in the past, namely that the anadromous fish protections were not backed up by data proving that fish were threatened in all of the waterbodies covered under the 50-foot setback rule.

“This ordinance is not a fish ordinance,” said Nikiski resident Michele Hartline. “It’s not a fish issue. If it was a fish issue, we would close all of those fisheries. No, this is definitely an overreach-by-government-on-private-property-rights issue.”

Others asked why the borough focused on private property owners rather than some of the personal-use and sport fishing impacts that can be seen on salmon-bearing streams.

“You guys can’t even fix the destruction that’s going on the Kasilof and Kenai River,” said Kasilof resident George Pierce. “We’ve got a king run that has been destroyed by all the boats on the river, now we’re getting ready to be invaded by thousands of dipnetters trampling the beaches, destroying the dunes … why aren’t you saying squat about that?”

Opponents of the latest challenge said the time to protect anadromous streams was when they were healthy and not threatened.

“I spent five years working on tributaries of the Columbia River,” said Lisa Beranek.

Beranek said she spent those years planting native trees, battling non-native invasive plants and administering projects focused on restoring salmon habitat.

“I worked with private landowners who, if given the opportunity to be in your position today, would give anything to go back and not remove the trees along their river bank,” she said. “Give anything to vote to keep an ordinance intact, if not increasing the footage of it.”

On the 9-person assembly, members made clear which way they would vote early in the process with Ogle, Bagley, Wolf and Stan Welles advocating strongly for a repeal of the current anadromous protections.

Brent Johnson, Mako Haggerty, Sue McClure and Kelly Cooper were opposed to the changes, making recently-elected Blaine Gilman a deciding vote on the matter.

While campaigning for his seat, Gilman said he thought the anadromous streams ordinance needed tweaking and was concerned about the layers of regulation that could discourage development.

However, when the assembly called for a vote, he was one of the first to register a no-vote in opposition to the proposed changes.

After the meeting, Gilman said his thinking on the matter had evolved as he learned more about the importance of riparian habitat.

“This has to be a balance between property rights and protection of watersheds,” he said. “We’ve had so much consternation in the community with us imposing these regulations on people that already owned their property. What’s going to happen as we grow is there are going to be more and more people moving into different watersheds and areas.”

Gilman said new residents would, in theory, be less concerned with the idea of a property-grab as they would buy their property knowing that the 50-foot setback is in place.

“It’s not the right reaction to just go for one water body and say ‘oh, it’s distressed and we should put regulations on it.’ It should be a preventative measure,” Gilman said. “It’s good for the health of the streams.”

Reach Rashah McChesney at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com or follow her on Twitter @litmuslens

More in News

Stickers are available for voters at the Kenai No. 1 precinct for Election Day on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna to hold ‘I Voted’ sticker design contest

City council members approved the program during their Wednesday night meeting

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks in support of a bill increasing state funds for public education in the Alaska House of Representatives on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bill seeking to bump use of Alaska Performance Scholarship clears the House with unanimous support

The money is awarded to high-performing high school graduates to help pay for postsecondary education at participating institutions in Alaska

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Ryan Anderson answers questions from state senators during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
State officials working to meet Friday deadline for revised transportation plan

The federal government rejected the plan on Feb. 9, citing numerous deficiencies

Travis Every, top left, speaks in support of fishing opportunity for the east side setnet fishery before the State Board of Fisheries at the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Local fishers talk conservation, opportunity before Board of Fisheries in Anchorage

Local fishers from the Kenai Peninsula traveled to Anchorage this weekend to… Continue reading

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, presents information on a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for Cook Inlet’s east side setnet fishery on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bjorkman bill would pay bonuses to nationally certified teachers

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development estimates that the bonus program would apply to about 215 of Alaska’s estimated 7,315 teachers — about 3%

Alaska senators meet with members of the media to discuss education legislation after a press conference by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the topic on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dunleavy threatens veto of education bill if more of his priorities aren’t added

It is not certain there would be the 40 votes necessary to override a veto by the governor

A map displays a wide-ranging special weather statement, published Tuesday by the National Weather Service, covering Southcentral Alaska. (Map courtesy of National Weather Service)
Strong winds, low wind chills forecast through Friday

Wind chills over night may reach as low as -20 to -40 degrees in much of Southcentral

Snow falls atop the Central Peninsula Diabetes Center in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. The office opened in October, but a grand opening was held this week. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Central Peninsula Hospital adds Diabetes Center

The center has been seeing patients since October and held a grand opening Monday

Gary Hollier pulls a sockeye salmon from a set gillnet at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Findings from pilot setnet fishery study inconclusive

The study sought to see whether shorter nets could selectively catch sockeye salmon while allowing king salmon to pass below

Most Read