Tuesday’s meeting of the Borough Assembly failed to bring any resolution to the ongoing debate over anadromous streams protection on the Kenai Peninsula. Assembly member Kelly Wolf withdrew his ordinance to repeal provisions of the Borough code that would have extended those protections to all bodies of water listed in a state catalog of anadromous streams. Despite a postponement in implementing the rules and the establishment of a Task Force charged with fixing perceived problems with the measure, the call for its full repeal is still being made.
Following another round of public testimony, both for and against the now-infamous 2011-12 anadromous streams ordinance, Borough Mayor Mike Navarre was compelled to clear the air. Again.
The ordinance hasn’t been implemented on the east side of Cook Inlet and won’t be until the Task Force has delivered recommendations to the Assembly and those recommendations go through a public hearing process. At that time, likely several months from now, the Assembly will vote on an amended streams ordinance.
“I’ve heard a lot of people saying ‘you need to do this now, you need to do this now’…Public bodies can’t do things that way,” Navarre said. “You have to bring something before (the Assembly) and then there has to be the public hearing process that allows the public their input,” he said.
The arguments against the ordinance haven’t really changed in the six months since its passage, nor has Navarre’s explanation of the process to review and possibly amend it. Opponents say it infringes on the rights of private property owners. Navarre has said the purpose of the Task Force is to find ways to assuage those concerns. Tuesday night during his report to the Assembly he addressed the claim by some who oppose the ordinance that they weren’t adequately notified.
“There is a responsibility that the residents of the Borough have, also. A lot of people have said…they didn’t know it was happening. I researched the record today, it was introduced in March of 2011, it had three public hearings before it finally passed in June of 2011. It had three public hearings before the assembly,” he said, adding that there will be plenty more opportunities for public testimony and public hearings in the future.
Assembly Chambers were standing room only in anticipation of a vote, but Assembly Member Wolf pulled his ordinance from the agenda citing concerns that communication about the measure among the Assembly might not pass muster with open records laws.
But that wasn’t the last of it.
Assembly Member Bill Smith addressed what he called inaccuracies in both the public testimony heard that evening and the language in Wolf’s proposed ordinance.
“Basically, I believe he made a completely unwarranted and actually a…defamatory attack on a non-profit and its director and I believe that he should not make those statements again and it would be quite appropriate if he would apologize,” Smith said of Wolf’s reference to the Kenai Watershed Forum in his ordinance.
As Wolf explained in an interview last week, his issue with the Kenai Watershed Forum has to do with what he sees as that organization’s influence on Borough legal matters. In 2009 after an assessment by the Watershed Forum of the previous Borough code that protected anadromous streams, the Assembly removed a section of that code.
“It really raises some questions of transparency and integrity in that association the Watershed Forum had with the Kenai Peninsula Borough because the Watershed Forum was also receiving grant dollars from the Borough at the same time to remove culverts,” Wolf said. ”It looks to be a very clouded, grey area”.
Calls for comment to the Kenai Watershed Forum were not immediately returned, but they’re not the only non-profit who does business with the Borough.
The Kenai Youth Restoration Corps, for which Wolf serves as Chair of the Board of Directors, was given a Borough contract this past fall for work at the North Peninsula Recreation Center.
At the meeting Tuesday, Wolf explained his withdrawal of the ordinance.
“I’ve long believed in the process of this government. It may not be perfect, but I believe very clearly in the transparency and the integrity of our government process. It’s for that reason and the question of the open meetings act that I pulled (the ordinance). I do not want question or clouds surrounding an ordinance and trying to push forward just because I’m being a bull head,” Wolf said.
As it stands, the Task Force will continue its work on the existing ordinance. During a presentation earlier in the meeting, Navarre’s Chief of Staff Paul Ostrander gave an update on the Task Force’s work to this point and what comes next. He said they hope to have recommendations finalized by mid-February, then hold a series of town-hall meetings in Nikiski, Moose Pass, Cooper Landing and Kasilof, before going before the Assembly for a vote, perhaps in mid-April.