Borough creates streams task force

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and administration has formed a task force to mull over concerns that have been swirling around a land use ordinance passed last year concerning the near shore habitat of anadromous streams.

Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said borough Chief of Staff Paul Ostrander and John Mohorcich, Donald E. Gilman River Center Director, will be leading a task force designed to further investigate the concerns and generate recommendations to the assembly.

Navarre said their first topic would likely center on the inclusion of lakes in the ordinance, a facet of the new code surprising to some borough administration and assembly members.

"They are going to look at it, talk about the differences between streams and lakes and the importance of lakes," Navarre said. "I think really it is to talk about what the history of the ordinance was and then what some of the opposition is and that's why we have a couple (of people who are against it) to talk about what their concerns are and see if we can find ways to reconcile and build consensus on changes that make sense from a policy standpoint."

Twenty-five anadromous rivers and streams on the Kenai Peninsula currently have rules in place to protect near shore habitat while still allowing for some property owner development. Protections go 50 feet up the bank from the ordinary high water mark.

The anadromous streams ordinance passed by the borough assembly in June 2011 added 2,317 stream miles to the 602 stream miles previously in the district.

Implementation for the east side of Cook Inlet was pushed back until January 2013.

Over the last several months as the Kenai Peninsula Borough administration and Donald E. Gilman River Center staff worked to enact the expansion, those current and future protections have come under criticism from property owners who feel they are onerous.

A local group called Citizens 4 Responsible Waterfront Land Use has formed to lobby the assembly to change the ordinance after the borough denied a referendum petition it filed in hopes of eliminating the ordinance.

The anadromous task force is scheduled to first meet in early August and is penciled in for August 9, Navarre said. Notice will be given before all meetings and they'll be open to the public, he said.

So far the group consists of C4RWLU members Fred Braun and Stacy Oliva, local biologist David Wartinbee, Ken Tarbox, Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Division of Habitat biologist Ginny Litchfield, assembly members Bill Smith and Ray Taurianen, Ostrander and Mohorcich.

Navarre said the assembly is also considering adding a member of the borough planning commission to the task force.

"It is probably going to be a public education process and partly a deliberation on how to address the specific lakes issue and overall the whole ordinance," Navarre said.

The several meetings the task force will have are likely to conclude in the spring of 2013 which would mean further delay of implementation on the east side of the inlet, Navarre said. The borough has until June 2014 to fully implement the ordinance according to its language, he said.

Navarre said the opinions the group generates will be just recommendations, but they will be forwarded to the assembly for consideration, likely as an ordinance.

"I think they will give a deference to the recommendation that comes forward," Navarre said.

Smith said he has other things he would like to address beyond the lakes issue.

"We intend to ask the legal department to address some of the issues that people have brought up like, 'Is it constitutional?' 'Is is a (land) taking?' and that sort of a thing," Smith said. "People have questions about it so I want to have a statement from the legal department addressing those specific issues."

The task force will also tackle concerns coming from residents who might contend there are no fish in lakes that are now protected, or those residents who differ on the importance of the near shore habitat of lakes.

"I think it is obvious from science there is water quality issues related to having stream-side vegetation, but there may not be food stock questions because ... the plants that grow in the lake can provide that sort of sustenance for the aquatic life the fish feed on," he said.

The task force might not agree on all things and have separate recommendations, but that's fine, he said.

"But once we have some solid legal and some solid science stuff and maybe some concurrence from the task force, then we will go out to the community and say, 'Here's something to react to,' and then listen to what the community has to say," he said.

Brian Smith can be reached at brian.smith@peninsulaclarion.com.

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