After hearing more than 100 public comments about proposed changes to the Borough’s anadromous habitat protection ordinance, the Assembly was able to get in a vote on one of two proposals on the agenda before adjourning at its midnight deadline.
The Assembly chambers were packed with residents. Some concerned about an overbearing, overreaching government body. Others concerned with doing whatever necessary to protect salmon-rearing habitat on the Peninsula. Before the Assembly were two ordinances. The first would have repealed provisions in Borough code that expanded protections to all water bodies listed in a state catalog of anadromous waters. The now infamous 2011-12.
The second would repeal that, and instead base the habitat protection district on an appendix indentifying salmon streams, and providing exceptions for prior existing uses and structures. Ken Tarbox, a member of the Mayor’s Task Force that tried to find some compromises to the ordinance enacted in 2011 that’s been at the root of all this, was one of the first to testify.
“Citizens of this Borough value personal freedoms and wild Alaskan salmon. They are the same as motherhood and apple pie in our culture. No one will say they don’t want to protect salmon, or that they like lots of government regulations. My view as a Task Force member was to help create an ordinance that has minimal level of riperian habitat protection and accommodates reasonable use within the regulatory habitat area. In my opinion, the Task Force recommendations accomplish that,” he said.
The comments came in two distinct waves. Following Tarbox’s testimony, voices in opposition to the expanded scope of the regulations came forward for nearly two hours.
“Please respect the personal rights and private property rights of the landowners here who pay the taxes. If you want to go after somebody, go after the hordes of tourists that get on state parks and trample them down,” said Bill Yant of Soldotna.
At times, the testimony both for and against was emotional. And times, flat out testy. For the most part, those speaking to the Assembly respected the three-minute time limit they were given. Assembly president had to shout over Nikiski resident and future Assembly candidate Wayne Ogle when he did not yield after the three minutes.
Amid references to UN agendas and government land grabs, there was little said by the opposition about the notion of the rights of all Borough residents to have continued access to the fisheries resource that makes up the foundation of the local economy.
Somewhere around the third hour of the meeting, a wave of supporters for the ordinance came forward.
“Not protecting this resource would be a mistake and protecting it would be a collective decision that can benefit our social, cultural and environmental resources. I believe it is our civic responsibility to support 2013-18 and start treating our resources as a collective and shared wealth for the prosperity of future generations in this community. That’s not communism; to me, that’s common sense,” said Kenai resident Branden Bornemann.
Many of the supporters were longtime Peninsula residents, with property directly affected by the ordinance.
“I’m here to address issues in my backyard and my community. Not world affairs or international relations. My family has enjoyed the opportunities and benefits of living on the Kenai Peninsula for nearly 40 years. And we’ve witnessed the tremendous growth and change throughout these years. I support the proactive approach to protection of anadromous stream habitat and believe it to be the most effective and cost effective means to do what we as citizens can do to afford future generations some of the high quality experiences we here tonight have been privileged to enjoy,” said Ann Bays of Anchor Point.
The back and forth between support and dissent went on until close to midnight, with the Assembly finally taking a vote on the first ordinance.
Charlie Pierce, Kelly Wolf and Ray Taurienen voted to repeal the expanded protection ordinance, but it was upheld. Following that vote, there wasn’t enough time left to tackle the second half of the equation. That will have to wait until the Assembly’s next meeting on July 2.