Catching the drift

Planning begins for lower Kasilof River boat retrieval project
Drift boat anglers get underway at the public launch just above the Sterling Highway bridge in 2010. The Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation is distributing a questionnaire to determine the design and location for a new pullout.

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation is seeking the public's help with creating and finding a home for a recently funded public drift boat takeout project on the Kasilof River.

 

According to a news release, the division has received funding to develop a public takeout facility located in the lower portions of the river to address the increasing demand from users of the drift boat-only fishery.

Currently, many boaters access the Kasilof River at the Alaska State Parks public boat launch, but there are no publicly owned exit points for the drift boaters on the lower portion of the river, according to the release. The two take-out sites below the bridge are privately owned and operated.

In the first phase of the construction project, the division is asking the public for their input on what they would like to see from the project, said DNR project manager Monica Alvarez.

"We haven't decided anything yet and we haven't decided what the correct criteria is yet and this is a time for folks to really give us their feedback on what this site should be and where it should be," she said.

So far the division has received $2 million for the first phase of the project, which will fund the public feedback, property investigations and site purchase. Additional money would be required to construct the facility, Alvarez said.

"The division has heard quite a bit over the years about this need for some public place to pull out," Alvarez said. "I think it has been exacerbated by some of the private places closing over the years or threatening to close."

In 2008, DNR used some sport fishing-raised money from the Department of Fish and Game to conduct a feasibility study on several sites along the river. At that time, however, Alvarez said the department was looking at the possibility of a dual function facility - for launching and takeout.

"Although they didn't find a suitable site, we learned a lot about what criteria and things we need to be considering," she said regarding the results of the study.

This time around, the feedback gathered from residents will help Alvarez and others develop criteria to evaluate potential sites for a takeout-only site.

"We are just trying to learn about user preferences," she said, "and what folks want to see associated with this retrieval site - what kind of technology should be used, what should the site kind of look like and what should be associated with it and also where it should be in their minds and why."

The various infrastructure needs to get the project done will depend on the site. However, Alvarez said the division wants the site to be economically feasible to develop, be of a sufficient size to accommodate an influx of parking and be located on suitable land to facilitate retrievals.

"We're going to form that criteria and then we'll know a lot more at that point and the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on that criteria that we develop as well in the format of a public meeting in October," Alvarez said.

Safety is also another factor at play in the construction of the site. A fisherman died last year when a boat rope snapped and hit him in the torso while trying to pull a boat from the Kasilof waters.

Alvarez said there will always be an inherent risk associated with taking boats out of the river.

"Of course we would want to make sure a state facility was safe, but it doesn't rule out the possibility of having a similar retrieval system in place even if it was state operated," she said.

A completion date for the project hasn't yet been identified, but Alvarez said the "very best case scenario" would be to have it in place by the summer of 2013.

"I can tell you that it is a priority for the Division of Parks and so we're kind of all hands on deck to go forward with this planning process," she said.

The final bill for the project, Alvarez said, will depend somewhat on what the public wants from the takeout facility. She said she has heard $1.6 million for it's construction tossed around, but that is a rough estimate at this point, she noted.

"We don't know how much to ask for until we know how much the public wants," she said.

The questionnaire - which can be submitted through Sept. 26 - and more information about the project are available at http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/kasilof/kasilofboatretrieval.htm

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