The public got a first look at plans for a long-anticipated park facility on the banks of the Kasilof River at an open house Wednesday in Kasilof.
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation owns two parcels of land on the north bank of the Kasilof River at approximately river mile 4. The former private owner of those parcels allowed boaters to haul out at his property there, but there was no formal facility. Though boaters can launch at the state-owned Kasilof River State Recreation Area near the Sterling Highway Bridge, there is no takeout before the Kasilof Lodge and Cabins about a mile upstream from the mouth.
After a man died in 2010 because the rope his group was attempting to haul a boat out with snapped and hit him in the chest, the state began looking at options for a drift boat take out on the lower Kasilof River. The Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation held public forums to gather feedback, secured funding from the Legislature to purchase land for a take out facility and send out a public survey to ask what kind of facility people would like to see. Five years later, after purchasing two properties called the Trujillo and Kimbrough properties, the department has drafted three plans for public review.
“The Legislature appropriated the funding for this is in 2011 and 2012, but the reason they did that was because there’s been an increase in demand for a reliable and safe public take out on the lower Kasilof River,” said Jack Blackwell, superintendent for the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation in Kenai and Prince William Sound in a presentation at the open house Wednesday at the Tustumena Elementary School.
Blackwell reviewed the survey information, which showed that approximately 47 percent of the people who responded to the survey in 2011 were drift boat users. Approximately 60 percent of people said they wanted to see a traditional boat ramp at a new site rather than just a boat take out system.
The plans reflect the survey. The first concept leaves the current boat ramp where it is and would install a parking lot with 48 long spaces and a smaller one with 18 spaces, two public toilets, a caretaker’s cabin, access trails, a “Kids Don’t Float” lifejacket stand and a vehicle staging space. The second concept is the same as the first but adds walking trails alongside the access road and interpretive signs about the history of the property.
The third varies from the first concept a little by moving the boat ramp to the south, and reduces the number of parking spaces to 45 boat trailer spaces and 16 car spaces. The engineers proposed moving the ramp because of the incline of the bank where the current ramp is, said Rys Miranda, section chief for the Office of Design and Construction for the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation.
A crowd of approximately 30 people, some of whom had participated in the original survey, gathered in the elementary school Wednesday to get a look a the plans and provide feedback. They had mixed reactions to the three options.
One of the chief concerns people voiced was about the potential for the boat ramp to be used as a launch, particularly for boats with motors. Fishing from a motor boat is against Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulations on the Kasilof River between Jan. 1 and July 31, and motors with 10 horsepower or less can be used below a marker at approximately river mile 3, but only after fishing from the boat is over for the day.
Tamera Achin, who co-owns the Alaska Riverview Lodge on the banks of the Kasilof with her husband, said people will launch their boats from the state facility at the Sterling Highway bridge, motor downstream to the mouth to participate in the personal use dipnet fishery there that takes place between June 25 and Aug. 7 every year, and then motor back up the river to the bridge to take out. If the state puts in a traditional ramp at the new facility, she said she was concerned people would launch and take out there with their motor boats.
One of the ways to fix it would be to set a rule that only drift boats could launch and take out from both state facilities, she said.
“They could make it so that both facilities don’t allow motors,” she said.
Kathy Bush, who lives next door to the proposed development, is concerned about the noise and increased activity on the property.
“It’s so close here,” she said, indicating the dividing line between her property and the proposed road on the schematic drawing. “I’m gardening right here. We’re right on the property line.”
Kasilof resident Catherine Cassidy stood up at the beginning of the meeting to disagree with the plan to put a boat launch in, is planning to submit a letter to the peninsula’s legislators objecting to the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation’s plans to put in a boat ramp rather than just a boat retrieval system. Without a management plan for the personal use fishery at the mouth of the river and without funding to staff the new proposed facility, the increase in use could damage the habitat for fish and birds and interfere with the drift boat sportfishery.
“There are many reasons why it would be better to have no public facility on the lower river than to have a boat launch,” she wrote in the letter. “All the problems occurring in the Kenai River in-rive rdipnet fishery would happen in the Kasilof River, only without the City of Kenai or (Kenai River Special Management Area) oversight. Most dipnetting activity and public safety problems are within the (Kasilof River Special Use Area) but (the Department of Natural Resources) has neither plan nor intent nor funding for regulating that area.”
As the public weighed in, staff from the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation wrote down their concerns and advice on flipboards. One common concern among the various groups was increased traffic on the boat ramp because people could use it to launch their boats to access the personal use fishery.
Ben Ellis, director of the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, who also attended the meeting, said he could use a director’s order to set rules out for the facility to prohibit the use of the ramp to access the personal use fishery. A director’s order isn’t the same as a regulation, which could take approximately two years to draft and go through the public process, and could stay in place through multiple seasons until a director rescinds it, he said.
“If you put it into regulation, it’s much, much more difficult to change it,” Ellis said.
The public can comment on the proposed plans for the facility, which the state is calling the Old Kasilof Landing facility, until Jan. 27. The state is tentatively planning to go out to bid to start construction in fall 2017 or spring 2018. The Parks and Outdoor Recreation staff also planned to hold an open house in Anchorage on Thursday.
Concept drawings and the public comment form are available on the Parks and Outdoor Recreation website at http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/kasilof/kasilofboatretrieval.htm.