Council to vote on whether Soldotna mayor will sign letter to KRSMA board

The paper trail in response to a state draft water report that highlighted turbidity issues in the Kenai River may get bigger.

Soldotna City Council Member Linda Murphy has written a response to the chairman of the Kenai River Special Management Advisory (KRSMA) Board’s Jan. 22 letter addressing the water quality in the Kenai River.

Soldotna City Council hasn’t authorized Mayor Nels Anderson to sign the letter yet, they will decide that at Wednesday’s meeting, but the letter explains that the city would have liked to provide some input before Ted Wellman, chairman of the KRSMA Board, wrote his own letter to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

“It is unreasonable to ask our representative to take a position or express an opinion for the City Council without providing opportunity for our elected body to evaluate and provide feedback,” the letter states. “In this case, there was time given that the comments were not due until January 29. As chairman, you chose not to allow comment on a letter you drafted and submitted on January 22, 2018, a full week prior to the due date.”

The idea to send, or not send, a letter came up at the Feb. 14 city council meeting when Robert Ruffner, who worked on several of the studies in report alongside the Kenai Watershed Forum, said the council should be abreast of what decisions the KRSMA board is making.

“I don’t think it’s fair to talk about the content of the letter. What I think is important to say is that the city of Soldotna, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the city of Kenai are all local governments that have designated seats on that body,” Ruffner said. “And when the body chooses to take up a topic and make official comments, I think the local governments should have an opportunity to deliberate and talk about what the content of those is.”

Wellman also spoke to the council, saying that the board struggled with the 45 day window the board was given to formulate a response to the DEC. According to Wellman, his letter was written with the input of a two-hour work session and nearly 40 public comments.

The board wrote their letter, challenging the methodology behind the DEC’s report. The draft report proposes that the lower 7.5 miles of the Kenai be recategorized as a Category 5 body, meaning that it fails to meet quality standards for turbidity, or too many solids suspended in the water.

The report is currently in draft form and must go through a public comment period and be forwarded to the U.S. Environmental Protection Service, which has the final approval authority for impaired water bodies. Other studies have linked the Kenai’s high level of turbidity to the intense summer boat traffic.

One of the board’s largest concerns is that it’s based on high standards, the quality standards for drinking water.

The letter doesn’t say whether the city agrees with or disagrees with the content of Wellman’s letter to DEC, he just wishes the city had a chance to give input, have a vote or even review the letter.

“We request that you refrain from any future action without a more thorough consultation with the designated local governments represented on your board,” the letter states.

The council will vote on whether or not Anderson should sign the letter at Wednesday night’s council meeting.

*This article has been updated to correct a factual error. The draft letter was written by Council Member Linda Murphy, not Mayor Nels Anderson as was previously reported.

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com

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