Anglers looking for a spot to access the south side of the Kenai River near Soldotna have never had an easy go of it. Most public access, including boat launches, is on the north side. A resolution calling for a public boat launch off Funny River Road was adopted by the borough assembly last week, but, it doesn’t do much to advance a project that has long been on the wishlist of local residents.
Back in May, borough mayor Charlie Pierce made the trip out to Funny River to meet with folks who, for years, have sought support for a public boat launch. Last week, a resolution was in front of the assembly, asking for its support in that endeavor, which it gave, though, with the caveat to not expect much to happen soon.
“I think the thing that I’m focusing on here is just the safe ingress egress of public access to the river that hasn’t been provided, that’s obviously been an issue for a long, long time and the truth of the matter is that I think the agencies that are responsible for providing the planning behind this are ready to create those plans," Pierce said. "And as I stated, they don’t have the funding mechanism to actually build a boat launch, but I think at some point should our financial situation change in the state, that this would be given some level of high priority in the future.”
That was in response to a question about what a boat launch would do to traffic volume on Funny River Road, which takes a very narrow and winding path near the river.
Assembly member Hal Smalley pointed out other infrastructure projects that have been on the drawing board in other subdivisions for decades.
“I don’t see this access to the river happening any time soon... I don’t think with the state of the economy right now, we’re going to see an access put in there any time soon. However, I support it because of a safety issue, for the residents that are there, for the tourists that come in, for the fire department that might have to access that river in an emergency situation. The access that is available is unsafe, should not be used. I think there needs to be access on the south side, that is a viable, safe access point.”
To be sure, there’s a place at mile 12 of Funny River Road, sometimes called the Hansen property, to get a boat on the river. But that’s different than an honest-to-goodness boat launch, with proper bank protections and parking for trailers.
Just a few years ago, a group came together, the Funny River Boat Launch Coalition, to try and lobby the state to put a launch there. The state Division of Parks along with ADF&G manage that parcel and came back with three options: one was for a full boat launch with parking. Another called for access to bank fishing along with public use cabins and trails but no boat launch or, a third option to do nothing.
That’s the option that was ultimately chosen in 2015, but the Division of Parks is now run by Ricky Gease. He was appointed to that position by Governor Dunleavy earlier this year and prior to that, was executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association. They were in favor of the project then and its new ED, Ben Mohr, is carrying the torch.
“We don’t have any position on where that boat launch should be at this time," Mohr said. "But we are supportive of public access to the river in the most responsible location, with particular regard to protections for the habitat out there. So, if a boat launch does go in, if we do put in additional public access; fishing platforms and things like that, we want special attention paid to preserving, conserving habitat in that area.”
The majority of comments from the public at the assembly meeting were from Funny River residents in support of a project, but even in that little corner of the Peninsula, there isn’t universal support.
“You didn’t hear a lot of opposition here today because a lot of us are still working, just getting off work, we’re on the Slope," said Funny River resident Jason Knotter. "And we’re working in this economy and it’s a very real issue that jobs are getting cut right now. We’re having teachers being cut, there’s police being cut. I hear a lot of valid concerns of why we should have the boat launch, but I don’t think now is the right time to be spending money on a project that is a luxury. It’s a want, not a need, when we have needs that are getting cut at the moment.”
The resolution ultimately passed unanimously, but that’s mostly symbolic. The next step to pay attention to will be if the state Board of Fish visits the topic when it begins its 2019/2020 meeting cycle in October.