Pond plan along the Kenai River draws concern

A Kenai landowner’s plan to excavate two ponds on his property near the Kenai River has some residents concerned about flooding and the impact on wetlands, among other concerns.

A conditional use permit submitted by Lavern Davidhizar for his property off Silver Salmon Drive to the city of Kenai in July details a plan to extract about 500,000 cubic yards of gravel and build two ponds, about 20 feet deep each. The property, about 52.6 acres, stretches along the Kenai River around river mile 12, between the Pillars and the Eagle Rock boat launches.

The ponds would be about 20 feet deep after the gravel was removed and allowed to fill with groundwater, creating two small private lakes, according to an Oct. 5 memo from Kenai City Planner Matt Kelley to the Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission. The extraction would take place over 3 years, with the work only occurring in the winter.

The land is currently vacant wilderness, with residents on the ridge to the east overlooking the property, according to the conditional use permit application.

Since the application came in, Kenai Planning and Zoning commissioners said they have gotten emails from some concerned individuals about the project and the Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board has weighed in with its own concerns.

“Our preliminary concern is primarily related to the proximity of this project to the Kenai River and the fact the project area appears to be wetlands under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” the letter from the board, dated Oct. 19, states. “Based on past flooding the Board is concerned any flood could effectively make the proposed ponds part of the Kenai River. This raises serious concerns about water quality, pollution, habitat damage and other related issues.”

One of the primary concerns was the source of the water that will fill the ponds after they are excavated. The Kenai River Special Management Area technically only includes the river itself, not the adjacent land below mean high water, so the ponds are not within the park’s jurisdiction. However, because it could impact the water conditions or habitat within the park, the board urged Kelley to “mandate a thorough investigation” before the permit is issued.

The Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission ruled the application incomplete and requested more information at its Oct. 11 meeting. One of the items the commission requested was a description of the water table in the nearby area.

The meeting cleared up a few questions about the purpose of the project. Kelley said the gravel is not being sold commercially — it would be transported to a location outside city limits.

Davidhizar explained at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting that he wasn’t concerned about the potential for flooding, as the property was higher than the normal floodplain for the Kenai River and it would take extraordinary circumstances, such as 500-year flood levels, to reach where the ponds are proposed to be. They aren’t visible from Silver Salmon Drive, and the work will only be conducted in the winter to preserve the road conditions through truck traffic, he said.

The ponds will also provide more habitat for birds and other animals, he said.

“Hopefully it’s going to be better habitat when we’re done,” he said.

Several commissioners had concerns about the ponds encroaching on neighboring property lines. The rough schematic drawing submitted with the application shows a buffer around the ponds, and Davidhizar said the plans wouldn’t push the ponds close to the property lines.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office in Soldotna has received a “number of calls” about the project, according to an email included in the application documents from Corps Project Manager Katie McCafferty. Kenai Peninsula Borough mapping shows wetlands on the property, but the Corps of Engineers makes its own determination of wetlands for projects.

The Planning and Zoning Commission found the application incomplete and asked for Davidhizar to come back with more information before the process moves forward to a public hearing on the permit.

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

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