Kenai River Ranch to remain undeveloped

The Kenai River Ranch property will stay the way it is, at least for the time being.

After more than a year of discussions about the development of the riverfront property on Funny River Road, the Alaska Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation announced the final site plan for the property Monday. The riverbank will be actively restored and the Hansen House will remain for a caretaker, but nothing else will change, according to the final site plan.

The state purchased the land in conjunction with the federal Bureau of Land Management in 1997 with funds from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill trust. The land has a conservation easement on it, held by the Bureau of Land Management, according to the project summary from the Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation.

“Through the process our planning team was able to understand what improvements visitors would like to see at the Kenai River Ranch … while complying with the Conservation Easement,” the Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation wrote on the project’s web page. “The fishing regulations will remain in place and an active restoration of the riparian habitat will benefit the river as well as cleaning up the site.”

The land is jointly managed by the Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, as there are fishing restrictions from the bank of the property. Under the final plan, the restrictions would remain the same — bank fishing would be closed from July 1-Aug. 15 each year. Fishing would only be allowed from a boat located more than 10 feet from the shore and not connected to the shore.

Public comment throughout the process was divided between leaving the land entirely alone or developing it for a boat launch. Many of the public comments in favor of a boat launch argued that as the area’s residential population expands, more people will demand access to the river. Currently, there is no boat launch on Funny River Road.

The commenters that opposed any development said adding camping or a boat launch would increase traffic on an already congested road and that the river habitat could be damaged from more fishermen on the banks.

Public comment technically closed in September, after a final public open house, but the Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation asked the Kenai River Special Management Area advisory board to weigh in. The board voted to support Concept 1, the plan that ultimately became the final site plan.

The state originally designated $35,000 for the site planning, not for the actual development that would be approved. The actual implementation of the riparian habitat restoration would cost approximately $223,300, according to the project summary.

With the Legislature looking to save wherever it can, there is no money for the project and it may be some time before any restoration actually takes place.

The Kenai River Special Management Area advisory board also requested that the state apply to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustees Council for funding to begin the restoration work without waiting for the state, so it’s unclear whether the Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation will request the funding from the state this year, said Jack Blackwell, the parks superintendent for the Soldotna and Prince William Sound area.

Blackwell said the Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation appreciated all the comments and public involvement.

“Initially, when we started the project, we had thought there would be more support for a boat launch and perhaps even a campground on the property,” Blackwell said.

“But we heard a pretty strong message during the public process, and I think the ultimate site plan took that into consideration.”

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

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