Public Hearing Set For Anadromous Streams Ordinance

Shaylon Cochran

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     After more than a year of debate, public hearings and task force meetings, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will finally make a decision about anadromous streams protection.

     Mark this one on your calendars: June 18th. At that meeting, the Borough Assembly will hold a public hearing, and maybe even a vote, on an ordinance that would change what lands fall under the Borough’s habitat protection code.

     This is the one we’ve been hearing about for over a year. In 2011, the Borough’s protection ordinance was expanded to include all the waters in a state catalog of anadromous places. This meant a 50 foot buffer, even on private property, that’s regulated in terms of what can be done or not as it pertains to fish habitat.

     In the time since that measure passed, public outcry from a handful of property owners has gotten louder. This issue has become so divisive, that even setting a public hearing date for it couldn’t be done without a fair amount of back and forth between Assembly members and the administration.

     Debate on an amendment to change the public hearing date wandered into fiduciary territory.

     How much will it cost? Will the Gilman River Center need more staff to enforce the new rules and process the permits that will be necessary for some things under those rules?

     “You know, some of us up here claim that we’re fiscally responsible and we’re conservatives and we’re going after that savings, but yet they’re willing to say yeah, I’ll do this. This is a feel good thing. And I don’t feel real good about it,” said Assembly member Charlie Pierce.

     “I want a number, I want to know what it’s going to cost and I want to tie you down to something so that when you’re going forward and you add four or five more bodies (at the River Center), we can come back and look at the minutes and say hey, you said you weren’t going to add four or five more bodies.”

     So, the administration will attach a fiscal note to this one. But Mayor Mike Navarre isn’t a real big fan of those.

     “In terms of tying me down, I just have to remind you and the public, the Mayor doesn’t appropriate. The Assembly does,” Navarre said, responding to Assembly member Pierce.

     “So if I say it’s going to take one person, the Assembly might say ‘we think it’s going to take two.’ That’s where the battles come in over fiscal notes. So we will put some estimates together as to what we believe the fiscal impacts will be.”

     Navarre also had to answer for the make-up of the Task Force. It includes two Assembly members, the mayor’s Chief of Staff, the River Center’s Resource Planner, three biologists and two private citizens. That’s the group that came up with the recommendations for the ordinance the Assembly will eventually vote on. The popular claim is that Task Force members had their minds made up long before they were done working.

     “If I put some expertise in the area of habitat and resource management on the Task Force, I think that was perfectly appropriate. The recommendations that came back are going to be before the Assemble for consideration and the public will have another chance to weigh in on it. That is the public process,” Navarre said.

     There’s a lot of information in the ordinance as it’s currently drafted, but here are a few of the basic rules for property within the 50 foot buffer.

     You won’t need a permit to mow or maintain a garden, or remove a tree that falls on its own. You will need a permit to take down a standing tree, and it has to be replaced with two saplings. Gazebos, fire pits, decks, saunas and the like are all okay, provided enough native vegetation is kept in place. Float plane landings and boat launches are also fine if, again, it doesn’t mean ripping about a lot of native vegetation.

     There’s also a grandfather clause for existing structures. If you’ve got a building that doesn’t fit the new rules, but can establish that it was under construction before they went into effect, you’re fine.

     You can see everything in the proposed ordinance here (the good stuff starts on page 183).

 

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