More than 30 residents crowded the Tustumena Elementary School on Wednesday night to hear an update from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation on the recently funded public drift boat takeout on the Kasilof River.
So far, the division has gathered just short of 90 comments on the proposed public takeout facility to be 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 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. Two of the more popular take-out sites below the bridge are privately owned and operated.
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, which, in the best-case scenario, would be in place by the summer of 2013.
DNR project manager Monica Alvarez said the comments were used to form criteria the division will use to examine and judge potential sites for the project and determine what features it should have.
The comments also indicated that DNR should weigh the project's community impacts and public and user preferences most.
Such impacts identified include possible damages to the dense residential development in the area, working to mitigate dust, noise and light pollution as well as managing traffic.
"Is it practical to do that considering the resources that would be needed and the cost?" Alvarez said in regard to how the division would examine those impacts. "It may be feasible to do it, but is it really feasible with cost and things like that factored in?"
On the public and user preference side of the project, those surveyed said they would like the drift fishing opportunity and experience maximized, to have the pullout site accessible to emergency services and located in an aesthetically pleasing location.
"One of the things we heard, especially from guides and other users, was that they wanted to pull out before they got to the industrialized part of the river because they have been having this really nice float and then they get to this area and ... that's the last thing they see mixing with commercial traffic and the industrial part of the river," Alvarez said.
She noted that others wanted to maximize their time on the river, however.
In addition to sharing the results of the first survey, the division also gathered feedback from residents in attendance Wednesday about the criteria developed.
The deadline for comments on the proposal extends through Oct. 31.
"That's the really important part," Alvarez said. "We kind of put this out there like, ‘We heard you, we think, did we get it right? Did we balance the weighting on these kind of evaluations part of this correctly?' Let us know so we can tweak it into a final evaluation and criteria form."
Jimmie Jack, a Kenai resident and owner of Jimmie Jack Fishing, which fishes two drift boats on the Kasilof in June and July, said he supported the project.
The most heavily used area to pullout - the Kasilof River Lodge and Cabins - has certain inherent risks, Jack contends.
"You are using a cable and it is dangerous," he said. "You've got to get the clients away from that thing as far as possible and I have to train my guides to keep them out of the area."
Jack noted he was in favor of a large ramp instead of the cable system. But, the devil is in the details as far as what and where the new takeout will be, he said.
"You've got all this wetlands in here which is going to create a huge problem for them in here," Jack said motioning to a map of the area. "I don't really have a preference, but it is easy for us to go at Trujillo's."
Tom Corr, a 61-year-old Soldotna resident and guide, agreed.
"Trujillo's is the best place to take out," he said. "It is the most logical place to take out."
He said if the state builds the takeout and it isn't in the right place, some guides would go back to Trujillo's if it's open.
"We'll pay the difference because it is the right place," he said.
Corr said, however, mitigating damage and disturbance to the neighborhood was equally important as its location.
"We've got to figure out how to make them happy," he said.
Larry Willard, a 62-year-old Kasilof resident, said many of the neighbors in the area are concerned about the project even though most support the concept.
"We basically have these five intersecting streets that they have to go through to even get down to get to where the sites are," Willard said. "We have a lot of kids. We have people with horses that walk that everyday. There's a hill going down that affects the speed and so that's a safety issue."
Plus, more fishermen and drift boat operators might be enticed to fish the river with a public takeout potentially adding more traffic, Willard said.
"But, you can't even estimate what the effect in the future is going to be on something because there isn't a limit on how many people can do it," he said. "There's never been limits on it until it's too late. There are a lot of things to consider."
Alvarez said she feels the division is on the right track with the project for the most part.
"Some people thought things should be weighted a little higher than other things and I encourage them to write in and let us know that," she said.
More information on the project is available at http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/kasilof/kasilofboatretrieval.htm