Proposed Kenai South Beach access road faces potential route change

The route of a road that Kenai intends to build for beach access on the south side of the Kenai River may change.

The proposed gravel road, originally planned to lead to the beach from the end of Bowpicker Lane by curving around privately-owned property through a city-owned wetland, might instead follow a more direct route.

Presently, the South Beach can be accessed through Dunes Road, approximately 2 miles south of the Kenai River mouth. Personal-use dipnetters wanting to fish on the south bank of the Kenai must travel up the beach from Dune Road through private beachfront property to reach the river mouth, creating complaints from property-owners of trespassing, litter, noise, and vandalism.

Kenai applied for a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers — required for construction within a wetland — in February. In March, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Alaska Coordinator Steve Brockmann stated in a letter to the Army Corps that “the proposed access road would encroach directly upon a very rich, ecologically sensitive wetland area which hosts spring and fall migrations of geese, ducks, and many species of shorebirds.” Brockmann cited disruption to birds, alteration of the area’s hydrology, and damage to the coastal dune system as potential effects of the road and its traffic.

According to an email from Army Corps Public Affairs Specialist Dena O’Dell, Kenai’s application for the permit was suspended at the city’s request on June 25. Kenai City Manager Rick Koch said the city asked the Corps to suspend the application for 60 days “while we potentially pursue another alternative that has recently become a possibility.” Koch said that the new alternative arose from conversations with South Beach landowners.

The possibility of rerouting the road was the subject of discussion in an executive session during the July 1 Kenai City Council meeting, during which the council gave direction to Koch for continued negotiations with Ark Properties LLC, an Idaho-based company that owns four South Beach properties. In a later interview, Koch said he was in negotiations with multiple landowners.

To get an Army Corps permit for the wetland route, Kenai would have to create a compensatory mitigation plan, requiring the city to preserve a wetland area proportional to the wetland area covered by the road. In its permit application, Kenai suggested a possible mitigation plan using 3.2 acres of the city-owned south shore wetland. In his March letter, Brockmann wrote that the selected area “may not be suitable or adequate” because of a helipad facility recently constructed at the nearby Cannery Lodge, which he said could “pose significant disturbance” to wetland waterfowl.

A compensatory mitigation plan was among the information that Army Corps regulatory specialist Michael Setering requested from Koch in a May 27 letter, which also stated that the permit application would be closed if the requested information wasn’t submitted in 30 days. In Koch’s June 11 response, he wrote that the compensatory mitigation plan was being developed by the city’s consultant, Robin Reich of Solstice Alaska Consulting, and would be submitted no later than June 26. The plan was not submitted because the city suspended its permit process. Because the road’s alternative path doesn’t pass through wetland, it would not require an Army Corps of Engineers permit.

Koch said that building the road on its original route is still a possibility if the alternate plan isn’t feasible. The city has the option of resuming its Army Corps of Engineers permitting process contingent on its submission of a mitigation plan.

 

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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