The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday mulled and ultimately postponed changes to the anadromous streams habitat protection ordinance currently being implemented across the borough.
Those proposed changes centered around the Seldovia slough and its inclusion in the habitat protection district, which residents of area fear would limit development traditionally done there.
All of the borough’s anadromous streams and their nearshore 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.
Some residents of the city that hugs the waterline, however, disagreed with the slough being considered an anadromous stream, especially because it is also considered an intertidal zone. Currently silver, pink and chum salmon spawn in the slough.
But assembly member Bill Smith, who is working on the issue with fellow assemblyman Mako Haggerty, said that’s more of an issue for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to consider.
Ordinance 2012-06 would be a way to mitigate the situation, Smith said. It would allow for some, but not complete, disruption of the riparian area along anadromous stream banks on lots smaller than .3 acres, including those across the borough and near the Kenai River.
Riparian vegetation contributes to water quality because it filters and provides nutrients for the insect and aquatic life. The ordinance allows residents to obtain a conditional use permit to build in the riparian area, 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.” If there is no vegetation in the area, there are no limits on covering it, Smith said.
The motion to postpone the ordinance until the assembly’s April 17 meeting in Seward was approved, 6-3, with assembly members Gary Knopp, Linda Murphy and Charlie Pierce opposing it.
Knopp said he thought the amendments would be “just disastrous” for the anadromous streams ordinance if they are included.
“I don’t think it goes to what we are trying to do which is fix the problem that we have caused for Seldovia,” he said. “I’d like to clean the slate and start with new amendments.”
“I don’t think it cures that problem and I would prefer to see this ordinance go away,” she said.
Smith said he disagreed the ordinance was “excessively complicated or difficult to understand.”
“I have been through it with the River Center extensively and they felt they could understand it and work with it and quite a bit of it was as a result of their input into the ordinance,” he said.
Pierce said Seldovia city manager Tim Dillon spoke with the assembly about the ordinance during committee earlier Tuesday. Pierce said Dillon mentioned the complexity of the ordinance and its “lack of clarity.” Dillon could not immediately be reached for comment.
Pierce said the borough should look for the simple solution to allow development in the Seldovia slough.
“The complexity is such that I don’t think it hurts to start over and draft a simple draft that excludes or retracts the code being applied to the Seldovia area,” he said.
The assembly mulled whether to postpone the ordinance, vote on it, or wait to incorporate changes that might be more agreeable to Seldovia residents using Dillon’s suggestions.
Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said time was a factor considering the short summer building season in Seldovia.
Knopp warned, however, that if too many changes were made to the ordinance after being postponed and reconsidered, that legally they might need to be required to have additional hearings on the new language.
“It is better to come back as a stand alone piece if you really want to support Seldovia and take all the questionable stuff out of it,” Knopp said. “I don’t think by postponing that and leaving all the amendments in there that we are helping Seldovia at all because I think the proposed amendments really muddy the entire ordinance.”
Haggerty said there would be an effort over the next few days to find a solution agreeable to all parties before the assembly meets again in Seward on April 17. Then two options would be on the table by the May 1 meeting, one of which could incorporate Dillon’s suggestions, he said.
“Postponing this would be the quickest route to a remedy for them, whether this ordinance winds up on the table or not,” he said. “It is the fact that it is on the table. It is going to create a vehicle to come up with that solution and I believe this is the quickest way to get the solution to them.”
Stream protection implementation pushed back
Navarre also mentioned the implementation of the anadromous streams ordinance for the east side of Cook Inlet would need to be pushed back for various reasons.
A memo from River Center Director John Mohorcich included in the mayor’s report to the assembly outlined the ordinance was put in place for catalogued streams on Kalgin Island and the west side of Cook Inlet within the borough’s boundaries on Jan. 1 of this year. The east side of the Inlet was scheduled to be folded into the regulations in May, but due to the complexity of the issue, that date would need to be pushed back to Jan. 1, 2013.
The memo states many property owners within the newly expanded district are not aware of the adoption of the ordinance and many need additional time to come into compliance.
“Within the next 30 days, all property owners within the expanded district will receive written notification of the program including educational brochures, website links and staff contact information,” the memo reads. “This extension will allow additional time to facilitate a better understanding of the program, resolve technical issues and help with the planning of future projects.”