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Stream bank protection at issue in new ordinance

Posted: June 5, 2011 - 9:12am  |  Updated: February 10, 2012 - 5:47pm

In early May, more than a dozen recreational miners filled the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly chambers to speak out against an introduced ordinance they feel would severely limit access to, and activity on riverbeds and banks.

That measure — Ordinance 2011-12, introduced by assembly member Bill Smith — seeks to expand the borough’s anadromous stream habitat protection district to almost all anadromous streams in the borough, save for the Seward-Bear Creek Flood Service area.

However, Smith said he doesn’t agree with the contention that such an ordinance would limit access. Rather, it would provide for better protection for those streams and fish habitat, he said.

“Habitat protection is important for our fisheries and how you get there is what we are looking at,” he said. “I’d like to do it with minimal government influence, interference and with minimal cost to the property owners.

“If we wait 50 years and we have another 50 years worth of development and then we try to protect the streams, what are we going to be looking at? It is time for us to move on and finish the job that was started here 15, 16 years ago.”

Smith’s ordinance will be up for final review at the borough assembly’s June 7 meeting.

Currently, the Kenai River, ten of its tributaries and 14 other streams in the area are managed under the habitat protection.

“It won’t do anything that we are not already doing on 25 of the anadromous streams and rivers in the borough,” Smith said.

Primarily, the ordinance would protect the near-stream habitat of all anadromous streams on the peninsula 50 feet up the bank from the ordinary high water mark.

“It is preserving habitat for fish and wildlife and when you maintain habitat on your bank — like willows, natural grasses, overhanging trees — that provides fish habitat for juvenile salmon by providing cover for them,” said borough planning assistant Dan Nelson.

Joe Demaree, state director of the Gold Prospectors Association of America, said setting those protections on more streams would be stepping on gold miner’s toes.

“They already have the Kenai River closed up,” Demaree said. “You can’t do anything on it.”

Demaree thinks the regulations could also hinder other forms of recreation on the stream — such as fishing.

“Once they start getting these bills passed then they can start finding some way to stop you from doing that and put a police force on it and how are you going to fish in the stream?” he said. “You can’t fish from the stream, you can’t walk on it, you can’t run a 4-wheeler on it, you can’t do anything.”

Smith said Demaree’s claims are false and unfounded.

“It is not true that you can’t walk on it or fish on it or drive on it,” he said. “That’s not at all prohibited … so maybe they should talk to the folks at the River Center and find out rather than just speculating and conjecturing about, ‘I can’t do this or I can’t do that.’”

John Czarnezki, borough resource planner, said the borough works with miners to permit their activities. The borough has issued more than 20 mining permits this year in the 50-foot protection zone, many of which are on Quartz Creek.

“One section of the code states that as long as the non-commercial, recreational activities are non-intrusive, and they don’t involve construction, excavation or fill of land and don’t result in erosion, damage to the habitat protection district or increase water pollution, they are good to go,” he said. “In fact, in many cases, a permit is not even necessary.”

If the ordinance passes, Czarnezki said there would be “no restriction” from the borough in regards to river access provided activities don’t result in damage to the habitat protection district.

“They can use traditional means, whether it is hiking, biking, four-wheeling and if there is an established road next to it they can drive up to it and unload their sluice box and hop into the stream and do their thing,” he said.

Demaree said the issue is larger than just the current action being considered.

“Once they get their foot in the door, it just goes on and on and on and pretty soon they’ve got it all locked up and you can’t do anything,” he said.

Demaree said stream access is important to thousands of recreational miners. He also said he has had to turn away about 300 people requesting information on mining due to other state restrictions this year.

He said it is the “Alaskan experience” to fish and mine for gold on stream banks, but contradictions arise when the state spends money marketing such experiences and then local municipalities consider ordinances like Smith’s.

“It’s ludicrous — they are talking out of both sides of their mouths on this,” he said.

Demaree noted the already stringent rules miners follow both due to permitting and ethical standards.

“You must put it back like you found it,” he said. “If you dig a hole, you must fill it back in. If you leave trash up there, you must pack it out. We are the last ones that want to see the salmon streams destroyed or anything on the environment, but you have to have a happy medium here.”

Smith said he proposed the ordinance now so the borough could get ahead of future development, which he thinks will make enforcement easier in the future with fewer monetary pains from property owners along the river.

“If you have an issue that you want people to be aware of, then the sooner you address it, the better,” he said. “If you wait until a development has already happened as we did on the Kenai River, then you can see from the permitting activity that the first five or six years we had a lot of conditional use permits a lot of grandfathering in. There was a lot of work that went on.

“People, if they understand a reasonable set of regulations, they will build according to that and it doesn’t cost them anything and it’s pretty easy to comply with.”

The thought that all activity would stop on the stream banks in the borough if the ordinance passes is an “assumption” based on emotion, rather than fact, Smith said.

“I don’t know what to do about that except try and reach out to these folks and explain that imagined impact is just not there,” he said.

Demaree said he and other concerned miners plan to show up in force to protest the ordinance at the borough’s June 7 meeting.

“Once they get this initiated, however small it is, then it keeps growing until they have it all locked up,” Demaree said. “And what do they want to lock it up for? If nobody can use it, what good is it?”

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akmscott
133
Points
akmscott 06/05/11 - 11:30 am
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Alaska-look but don't touch!

Alaska-look but don't touch!

shadowmt
78
Points
shadowmt 06/05/11 - 11:44 am
0
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quote from article The

quote from article
The thought that all activity would stop on the stream banks in the borough if the ordinance passes is an “assumption” based on emotion, rather than fact, Smith said.

Wake up Smith! These ARE NOT assumptions THEY ARE FACTS.

Just look at what has been done to Soldotna Creek, Slikok Creek, Morgan's Landing, the Moose River, mouth of the Kenai river, and now the mouth of the Kasliof river just to name a few.
Used to be you could take your your family to any of these places and have a great time for FREE. Now you can't park your car without paying someone. Once the foot is in the door you people never quit pushing.

witchwitch
51
Points
witchwitch 06/05/11 - 02:32 pm
0
0
Government intrusion for what specific purpose?

This appears to be another loss of citizens rights, all under the guise of environmental protection.

I wonder if this new law creates more government and how much we are going to have to pay for these new regulations? I'll bet that Bill Smith has an agenda which doesn't include respecting the rights of miners.

When the Borough Assembly runs off every producer of wealth on the Kenai Peninsula, who will be left to pay for the salaries and benefits for all these government workers and politicians?

spwright
1376
Points
spwright 06/06/11 - 07:08 am
0
0
Trampled

Mon. 6/6/11 "D-Day June 6th,1944"
Now be Truthful here. What does Our River & the River Banks
look like after 1000's of Alaskans have been allowed to Run Wild with Their 4 Wheelers. Do the 4 Wheelers EVER come back to Repair What They have Damaged ?

Whine all ya want about Government Regulations & Restrictions but it's the Wild Alaskans on 4 Wheelers that have created this problem. They have no regard to what those machines damage.

Tear the Hell outta everything in sight then just ride off into the sun set & never look back & they actually believe that they have the right to cause that damage.

4 Wheelers have created this problem & they do nothing to repair the problem cept whine about their Freedom then complain when regulations cost them $Money$.
Well Guess What ! YOU created this Problem with your 4 Wheeler.

SPW "Airborne"

radiokenai
562
Points
radiokenai 06/07/11 - 01:04 pm
0
0
SPW Airborne
Unpublished

You have got to be kidding right? Personally, I think the problem is with ex-airborne fisherman who wear their jump boots and trample the muskeg!

Now excuse me a moment while I fire up my wheeler and take a spin!

spwright
1376
Points
spwright 06/08/11 - 06:29 am
0
0
Wed. am 6/8/11

To be Honest, I really do believe that 4-Wheelers are the
source much destruction here on the Kenai.
One doesn't have to travel far to witness the physical evidence of that destruction. It's Everywhere.

A small 3ft wide 4-Wheeler Path soon turns into a Mud Hole big enough to swallow a Elephant. As the Drivers of those 4-Wheelers just drive off into the Sun Set without a single thought to the destruction they just caused.

Then those same 4-Wheeler Drivers get so very very Up-Set
& [filtered word] Off when the Feds will no longer allow 4-Wheelers on Federal Land. They Scream & Whine about their Freedom to be a Alaskan & ride 4-Wheelers.

Well DUH ! YOU just caused those Restrictions.

SPW "Airborne"

analaskancitizen
53
Points
analaskancitizen 06/08/11 - 06:30 am
0
0
above it all

I've been in Alaska the majority of my long life and I noticed long ago that the "We don't give a how they do it Outside" attitude has not always served us well. We often act like teenagers, unable to learn from others' experiences.

It seems we simultaneously demand "wild fish", while not being willing to do what needs to be done to protect their habitat. We trample the river banks and the dunes...because we can and it is our "right." We try to prevent and circumvent anything that might be an inconvenience.

I want salmon rearing areas protected, even if some influential person has purchased property with the intent to do an end run on the laws. Protecting those areas makes my Alaska and your Alaska healthier. It increases the probability that the future generations will be telling fish stories as well.

Its fine to say we didn't know any better when our sewage ran directly into the river...but now we do know better and there are thousands more of us. It's time for us to grow up and act like responsible Alaskans and protect and restore what we say we value.

christiwp
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christiwp 11/29/11 - 06:35 pm
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stuartw13
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stuartw13 01/04/12 - 03:23 am
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