The Kenai Peninsula Borough administration building is seen on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

The Kenai Peninsula Borough administration building is seen on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Caribou Island residents voice opposition to proposed access changes

The borough assembly will consider a petition to vacate a 100-foot-wide access point on the island

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will consider a petition to vacate a segment of a right of way on Caribou Island, in Skilak Lake, during their Tuesday meeting. The Borough Planning Commission approved the petition by a vote of 8-3 during their Jan. 25 meeting.

The segment in question is a 100-foot wide right of way that island residents use to access interior properties when bringing in food, water and other materials. Petitioners Michael and Peggy Clements claim that people are mistakenly using their property thinking it is part of the right of way, which they say is resulting in the deterioration of the bank and forest floor of their property.

Following the vacation, the petitioners are proposing a new 30-foot easement would be created about 70 feet east of where the current easement is. Relocating the access point, the petitioners say, would give them the opportunity to repair and regrow the land.

Almost 50 pages of public comment have been submitted to the borough on the issue, many of which ask the assembly to veto the planning commission’s decision, which they say damages an important access point for people going to Caribou Island.

Additionally, replacing the 100-foot easement with a 30-foot easement farther south would pose challenges for people trying to use it. Several people who submitted comments said that where the easement is currently protects vessels from strong winds blowing in that direction. Others say the shore in front of the proposed easement is shallow and rocky and that to get from the shore to the island’s interior would mean navigating a steep grade on ATVs. The new easement, others say, would also only accommodate three boats at a time.

“The proposed new location besides being very narrow is in a place where a boat or float plane cannot safely land,” said Curt Smith. “Given that it is not allowed by the Kenai River authority to dredge the lake bottom or remove any rocks there is no way to make the proposed site suitable even if it were 100’ wide like the current easement.”

Other comments called the petition inequitable because it would benefit the petitioners while disadvantaging others on the island.

“Caribou Island is a unique property and decisions regarding easements cannot be treated as they would be in the city or even most rural areas,” wrote Sandra K. Bowen. “Easements are vital access and connection points. The desires of the petitioners should not outweigh the needs of many present and future property owners.”

“It is unjust and inequitable to replace a 100’ easement with a 30’ easement that has inferior landing area and safe access,” wrote Russell A. Nogg.

“It is certainly is not fair to expect All Landowners to sacrifice their interests in this Traditional 100 ft Easement, in exchange for a much narrower 30 ft of unproven ground and shoreline, for the expressed interests of only one land owner, because they may be unable to accept what Mother Nature has been doing, and will continue to do, since the beginning of time,” wrote David Merrigan.

In their own comments, the petitioners responded to some of their neighbors’ concerns and pointed out that the island has several other access points of different widths.

“To answer the question for safe haven, we will never deny anyone safe haven but with that said, Skilak Lake and the glacier there creates its own weather pattern and storms can kick up at any moment and the winds can blow from any direction,” wrote petitioner Peggy Clements, who also works for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Department as a platting technician. “We have had to seek safe haven and moved our boat to the west side of the island for safety from the shallow area creating waves in front of our property when the wind blows.”

Petitioner Mike Clements said that in discussing the relocation with their neighbors, they agreed that it was the “best possible solution.”

“In conclusion I would like to say that I wish the people of the island if they were concerned about what was going on, they should’ve contacted me, and I would’ve been happy to produce my record of survey and show them exactly where those property lines are so it becomes clear that everybody is trespassing,” wrote Mike Clements.

James and Lorraine Jones, who said they own property immediately adjacent to the proposed easement changes, submitted a public comment that said they would not be negatively impacted by the change.

“The scenic view frequently brings individuals walking the existing trails and shoreline (beach) during periods of low water,” they wrote. “This area is situated on the windward side of the island affording no protection from heavy winds therefore, we do not feel easement location changes will bring increased traffic to the immediate area.”

The borough assembly can veto the planning commission’s recommendations at their Tuesday meeting, which people are able to attend in person or can stream online.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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