Plans move forward on Kenai River Ranch

Plans for developing the Kenai River Ranch property are progressing toward a final site plan.

The Alaska Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game manage the property, located at Mile 12 of Funny River Road, jointly. The state purchased the property, a former homestead, with funds from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustees Council and plans to do some work there. The discussion about what kind of work to do has been going on for a little more than a year.

The Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation presented three tentative options: one where nothing would be done but bank restoration, one that would include parking and a boat launch among other amenities, and one that would include public cabins and interpretive trails with the history of the property.

Though the public comment period technically ended Sept. 25, 2015, the department sought one last comment from the Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board. The board weighed in at its Thursday meeting.

Funny River Road residents packed the room. Several spoke in favor of leaving the property as untouched as possible, saying residents do not want the extra traffic from a boat launch or a new spot to bank fish.

James Oberman, a property owner on Funny River Road, said he is concerned about reopening bank fishing there because of damage to the fish habitat. He also said adding another boat launch would make no sense because of the crowding of boats on the lower Kenai River.

“You’re just going to have an amazing amount of bank torn up that people have spent thousands of dollars to put those trees and stuff in,” he said. “When you get that amount of boat traffic in there, it undercuts those trees and just eats the bank right out from under them. It defeats everything we’ve been trying to do.”

Most of the attendees who spoke said they favored Concept 1, which would not include any improvements other than restoration of the riparian habitat. Hans Brons, who said he owns property upriver of the Kenai River Ranch property, said he’d like to see more willows planted there for the benefit of wildlife but no further development.

“Everybody I’ve talked to along the river, me included, would like to have nothing done,” Brons said. “There’s enough boat traffic and people traffic up there already. And there’s a Funny River campground that’s very close that could be upgraded easily without adding anything else.”

The board members debated between Concept 1 and Concept 3, which included interpretive trails and public use cabins. Several members acknowledged that the public use cabins would produce revenue for the Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation but noted the concerns of residents about increased traffic.

The property has been earmarked for recreational purposes, so a site plan should support that, said Board Chairman Ted Wellman.

“This parcel of land had long been identified … as a site to be developed for recreation,” Wellman said. “I wouldn’t support dense recreational use, but I think allowing fishing on the bank with appropriate safeguards … I don’t see that much of an intrusion.”

The board ultimately voted in favor of Concept 1, which was received with applause from the approximately 20 attendees.

Although there is no money currently appropriated for the project itself — all the funds available for it are for planning purposes only — the board also recommended that the Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation request funds from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trust to begin restoration work sooner rather than waiting for the funds to be set aside in the state’s budget.

Any action taken now can be amended in the future.

The next step for the Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation is to evaluate the public comments, including the KRSMA advisory board’s recommendation, and finalize a concept plan.

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

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