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Borough to consider river protection tax credits

Posted: September 23, 2011 - 7:00am  |  Updated: September 23, 2011 - 7:52am

In late June, the Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly took action to add thousands of area rivers and streams to the anadromous stream habitat protection district.

Now, residents looking to help maintain those protected river banks and shores could be eligible for tax credits and exemptions to help with habitat protection and restoration project expenses.

Ordinance 2011-37, introduced by assembly member Bill Smith, seeks to expand the already existing tax credits and exemptions on 25 of the borough's streams to all of the streams that became protected in June.

"It seemed logical to give all the streams the same treatment if people were going to make those habitat protection improvements," Smith said.

The ordinance will be up for public hearing at the assembly's Nov. 1 meeting.

The idea of the stream protection ordinance was that by protecting the habitat, the safety and future of the fish is secure, advocates said. That habitat protection district includes almost all anadromous streams in the borough, save for the Seward-Bear Creek Flood Service area.

According to Ordinance 2011-37, a property owner must submit an application for prequalification of the improvement project with the Donald E. Gilman River Center and, if approved, the borough assessor will provide a tax credit to the landowner.

That credit is good for up to 50 percent of the taxes levied on the land for that year, or the cost of the project, whichever is less. If there are left over costs the credit didn't cover that year, they can be covered through the next year's taxes by the same credit refund structure. There is a three-year limit to accomplish a total refund, according to the ordinance.

"A large part of it is aimed at restoration of the habitat because of either the development or it could just be natural erosion that occurred," Smith said. "There has been a number of projects along the Kenai River where people have ... done various things to create from an eroded bank, one that has vegetation on it and is stable."

Eligible projects include certain gratewalks, boardwalks, bridges, spruce trees cabled parallel to the river bank to act as a buffer, stairways, steps and fish cleaning stations meeting certain requirements. Also included are projects that prevent or reduce petroleum products, including road oil runoff, from entering the water and bank restoration and protection developements.

"In most cases, on all the additional streams that we have, because they are not used the same way the Kenai River is, there are probably not a lot of other projects that would be able to take advantage of the tax credits or the tax exemptions," Smith said. "However, it is only fair that once we are asking people to protect the stream-side habitat to make that available to all people that are affected."

The original ordinance protecting Peninsula streams 50 feet up the bank will take effect on Jan. 1.

"What the river center is doing (in the meantime) is working up their property owner notifications and protocols and that sort of thing so they can get the word out to everybody," Smith said.

That might be a lengthy procedure, Smith said, but it's one that's worth doing.

"I'm not at all one to want to jump on anybody in the middle of a project or doing something," he said. "... In the total scheme it is only this obligation to protect this environment over the long period that really matters. If you have one or two projects here or there that happen this year, it is not the end of the world."

Mayor hires new capital projects manager

Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor David Carey has hired a new capital projects director with perhaps only weeks remaining in his tenure.

Kevin Lyon, who is currently the capital projects manager and acting public works director for the city of Kenai, has been hired to fill the position left vacant when Carey fired Dan Park for the "general good of the borough."

The hire is waiting for confirmation from the borough.

"He starts before they confirm," Carey said. "And they have never not confirmed someone ... in my history."

Lyon was previously the public works director for the borough from July 2006 to November 2009.

Carey said the borough was looking at the possibility of creating a public works department after Park was let go, in hopes of decreasing the overall budget.

"(That would have) combined roads, maintenance, capital projects and purchasing into one department," he said. "And the idea would be that the different people who are now directors, as they went to other things or retired that we would change the structure."

But it didn't seem like the right time for that decision, which should be made by the next mayor, he said.

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