Assembly passes stream protection ordinance

Thousands of streams added to habitat protection district after much testimony

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly took action Tuesday to add thousands of streams to the anadromous stream habitat protection district.


At its regular Tuesday meeting, the assembly approved, 7-2, ordinance 2011-12, which will 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.

The ordinance, introduced by assembly member Bill Smith was met with opposition in early May by numerous recreational gold miners who felt it would severely limit access and activity on riverbeds and banks. Residents who owned property bordering the river also spoke out against the measure, citing concerns about their property rights and future rights to develop or modify land near the bank.

Currently, the Kenai River, 10 of its tributaries and 14 other streams in the area, are managed under habitat protection. 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.

The idea is that by protecting the habitat, the safety and future of the fish are secure, advocates of the measure said. However, several residents testified stating those protections would interfere with their rights.

Kasilof resident Paul Bunch said he was “tired” of adding restrictions on streams “so we don’t have nothing” and “you can’t even enjoy anything anymore.”

“You take, and take and take and now you want to take all these streams and put restrictions on them so we can’t do anything,” he said Tuesday. “We have federal restrictions, we have state restrictions, now we have the borough wanting to make restrictions on these streams.”

However, Natasha Ala, a member of the board of directors of the Kenai Watershed Forum, testified in favor of the ordinance citing its future importance to maintaining the area’s lifestyle and economy.

“This ordinance is also important because it protects the smaller streams,” Ala said. “It is in the smaller streams where the young salmon will spend up to three years before they go out and leave the watershed and head out to open waters and protecting those smaller streams is really, really important to protecting our stock of salmon that we have here.”

She urged the assembly to pass the ordinance “for our children, for our grandchildren and hopefully we will have great-grandchildren that will be commercial fishing, dip netting and sportfishing.”

— For more on this story, see Thursday's Peninsula Clarion.