As business and traffic ramps up in Kenai as thousands of dipnetters arrive from all over the state, members of the Kenai Police Department find themselves getting busier, too.
Part of the increase in police calls is just part of more people being in town during summer months, said Kenai Police Chief Dave Ross. The other part is due to the increased traffic, both vehicle and boat, that the personal-use dipnet season brings to town for most of July.
Parking violations and traffic issues tend to be the department’s most common complaints this time of year, Ross said.
Ross cautioned motorists to be patient while driving, especially during the season’s peak weekends.
“When the fish are here, it’s going to get crowded,” he said.
Last year, dipnetters were introduced to a new route to Kenai’s south beach — the city extended Royal Street to the beach for that purpose.
“I think things went pretty smoothly last year,” he said.
Last year, authorities did see a larger number of boat collisions and capsized boats in the mouth of the Kenai River. There were no fatalities, and good Samaritans helped recover dipnetters and boats, but Ross said people can take steps to prevent such accidents.
Wearing life jackets, being cautious on the water and ensuring vessels are appropriate for the fishery are good places to start, he said.
The Kenai Police Department does a few different things to keep both locals and dipnetters safe during July. This year, the department hired six temporary enforcement officers to roam the beaches and keep order. They will be spread out from early morning to late at night, and more of them will be concentrated on peak weekends, Ross said.
A new resource for the department this year is the mobile phone app “Dipnet Kenai” developed and published by the city. Not only does it contain useful information about the fishery, it also provides a way for police to send out alerts to the public.
Ross said police usually get at least one or two children reported temporarily missing each dipnet season. That’s the kind of information members of his department could put into an alert that would be sent to every person with the app to help resolve the situation sooner.
“I think that will be an advantage to us,” he said.
Police got to try the alert system out already this week when a pickup truck rolled into the river mouth. They sent out an alert letting people know there were going to be divers and heavy equipment operating in the area, Ross said.
Other than boat accidents and parking violations, the police department gets a handful other other incidents reported each year during dipent season, Ross said, like thefts and complaints of fireworks being used. Last year, there were two natural deaths associated with the dipnet season, he said.