A new working group will review the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s code on habitat protection for anadromous streams. That section of code, last updated in some contentious votes in 2012 and 2013, called for a review every five years beginning in 2015.
The debates that happened six-plus years ago were centered on the 50-foot setback. That provision makes it necessary for property owners along anadromous waters to apply for a permit to do certain work through the Kenai River Center. The goal is to protect riparian habitat, and keep waterways healthy for fish. Assembly president Kelly Cooper was one of two votes against creating the working group. She says a staff review of the code, which is what was originally intended, should be enough for the assembly to decide if any changes are needed.
“I have enough confidence in the science that tells us that the anadromous streams (ordinance) does work. I spent a day at the River Center and had Tom Dearlove, the director at the time, drive me around the central part of the Peninsula and show me examples of why it was needed and where it was working.”
Dearlove retired from the River Center earlier this year, but we spoke with him about this very topic in late 2017, after he and his staff had a couple years to see how things were going. At that time, fewer than ten permit applications had come in. He said the objective is always to find a way to accommodate both the fish and what the property owner is trying to do.
“Cutting trees, for example. They look at that and they want to make sure I can see the grandkids and I don’t want to have bears walking through, because there’s bears here all the time. I just want to have the trees out. And I say, if you just limb up the trees on the bottom, you’ll be able to see. And also, you’re not having your neighbor across the river looking right at you once the trees are gone. It’s those kinds of things that they’re very happy with the outcome on both sides.”
The new working group was originally to be staffed at the discretion of the mayor, but Cooper offered an amendment, which was adopted, that would include a potentially more diverse set of voices. Instead of an assembly member, a planning commission member and five members of the public appointed by the mayor, the mayor will now provide a list of five names from all parts of the Peninsula that will need assembly approval.
“I know there are those on the assembly that still feel the (ordinance) is unnecessary and doesn’t work. But this work group should help them understand that it does work and we can make it work for all the property owners, where they don’t feel like we’re preventing them from utilizing their property to the best," Cooper said.
The work group, once established, will have a final report due to the assembly in March of next year.