The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday will look at an ordinance designed to alleviate some of the headaches caused through the anadromous streams habitat protection ordinance currently being implemented.
All of the borough’s anadromous streams and their near shore habitat became protected under Ordinance 2011-12, which was approved by the assembly last summer. The measure seeks to protect the habitat 50 feet up the bank from the ordinary high water mark in the name of healthy salmon and watersheds, but also allow for sensible development through regulation.
Included in the anadromous protection district was the Seldovia slough, which several residents of the area disagreed with and thought might limit development of the town living on the water’s edge.
“Seldovia said, ‘Oh my God, this is going to ruin our town — we won’t be able to develop,” said assembly member Bill Smith, who is introducing the bill along with assembly member Mako Haggerty. “I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to look at the issues.’ In some respects Seldovia said it shouldn’t be an anadromous stream, but I’m not quarrelling with the (Alaska) Department of Fish and Game about that issue. I look as that as a separate issue.”
Smith said currently silver, pink and chum salmon spawn in the slough, which is also considered an intertidal zone. If the protections stand the way they are now, residents would be forced to apply for a “variance,” which is governed by state statutes. Smith said he was “not comfortable” with telling residents to go through that lenghty and complex process and it wouldn’t address the specifics of the issue.
“Because of state law it makes it very hard to get a variance,” he said. “What I wanted to do was create a way that people with small lots could get a permit to do the kind of building they do over in Seldovia. In addition, there were other areas, specifically on the Kenai River, that have even smaller lots.
“Just take a look at Poacher’s Cove and you’ll find those are really small, smaller than you find in Seldovia.”
Smith thinks Ordinance 2012-06 will be that solution. The ordinance is up for introduction at the assembly’s Tuesday meeting at the George A. Navarre Borough Building in Soldotna.
The measure would allow for some, but not complete, disruption of the riparian area along anadromous stream banks on lots smaller than .3 acres.
“The vegetation is what contributes to water quality because it does the filtering and it provides actually a level of nutrients for the insect and aquatic life,” Smith said.
The ordinance allows residents to obtain a conditional use permit to build, but “total impervious coverage may not exceed 50 percent of the area able to sustain native vegetation, or 5,000 square feet of area able to sustain vegetation, whichever is less.”
“I’m trying to make it easy for people to do the kind of things that they do,” Smith said.
The “unspoken” part of the bill is that if there is not vegetation in the area, they are not limited in covering it. Smith said studies have shown water quality begins to degrade when there is more than 10 percent impervious coverage of vegetation, but Smith said he wanted to find a middle-ground solution for small parcels of land.
“By allowing a 50 percent coverage, it really goes way past where science indicates there is impact to water quality,” he said. “But it is a compromise because people have land and they have development rights and they want to get on with their lives. Given that we are not looking at a huge number of places it is reasonable to be flexible in the application of that coverage allowance.”
Smith said he worked with staff at the Donald E. Gilman River Center on the ordinance. Implementation of the anadromous protections started at the first of the year on the west side of Cook Inlet, and will apply to the whole Peninsula starting in May.
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.