A group tasked with mulling recent protections added to local anadromous lakes and streams has formed, hosted its first meeting and is settling into what could be a several month process of answering the question before it.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre has asked the Anadromous Fish Habitat Protection Task Force to consider if the anadromous fish habitat protection code enacted last summer is appropriate for some or all of the lakes included in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s “Atlas and Catalogue of Waters Important for Spawning, Rearing, or Migration of Anadromous Fish.”
Borough Chief of Staff Paul Ostrander, who serves as facilitator of the task force, said the group plans to take on other issues in the future, but right now wants to stick with the lakes issue and take others one issue at a time.
“I think if we tried to tackle every issue that was identified at once it would limit our effectiveness and I think the timeline would be stretched out significantly,” he said.
However, Stacy Oliva, a founding member of the Citizens 4 Responsible Waterfront Land Use group that opposes the anadromous protection ordinance, is concerned the task force is “narrow in scope” given the size of the impact she contends the ordinance will have.
“As far as expectations go, I am just going to wait and see,” she said.
Currently, the Kenai River, 10 of its tributaries and 14 other streams in the area, are managed under habitat protection. The anadromous streams ordinance passed in late June 2011 added 2,317 stream miles to the 602 stream miles previously included in the district.
The ordinance protects the near-stream habitat of all anadromous streams — which host fish migrating from the sea to spawn in fresh water — in the borough 50 feet up the bank from the ordinary high water mark.
The idea is by protecting the habitat, the safety and future of the fish — primarily salmon — are better secured, advocates of the measure contend. Opponents contend the measure is onerous, isn’t within the borough’s powers and infringes on private property rights.
Borough code on the issue includes a prior use rule, creates tax incentives for improvement and compliance and creates a permitting system for property owners to receive approval for projects on their property in the protection district. Implementation for the east side of the borough is scheduled for January 2013, but notice of the ordinance’s rules and regulations has already been mailed out to some areas.
In June, the borough denied the C4RWLU group’s petition aiming to scratch the measure from the books.
The task force will likely meet again in early- to mid-September, but is not operating under a deadline because administration didn’t want to put limitations on it, Ostrander said.
Oliva feels Navarre is concerned about the ordinance and is working to address an issue he inherited. But she said she is concerned the task force isn’t being treated in a similar manner as other former task forces.
Specifically she wants the group to be formed under a resolution approved by the assembly to give it guidelines and deadlines. That would add to its “credibility,” she said.
“It is a little open-ended, I guess you would say” she said. “I’m concerned it is a means to dissipate some of the energy in the community for bringing up the concerns ... because it’s a borough-wide impact. It’s not a small impact on private property ownership.”
Ostrander said he was optimistic the task force will be effective, but said it would take a while for the process to work.
“I think a lot of times folks look at a task force and think, ‘You know it is just going to be a bunch of people meeting and they are going to meet for a year and nothing is going to happen,’” he said. “Or even worse, they might feel like a task force is formed to simply support the administration’s position on something and that is not the case here at all.”
Ostrander said he wanted the group to make and forward “tangible recommendations” to Navarre and then possibly the assembly.
“This was an ordinance that was passed prior to this administration being here and we’re at the point now where we are just trying to figure out the most appropriate and responsible way to implement this ordinance,” he said. “If that means making some changes, then we think that is OK.”
The group’s Aug. 9 meeting, Ostrander said, served as mostly an introduction among the assembly members, planning commissioners, residents, biologists and other officials who comprise it.
Members discussed the ordinance’s constitutionality, its history, and why it was put into place, Ostrander said. The group will host experts in a variety of fields to discuss things like the process by which a body of water is included in Fish and Game’s catalogue, what economic impact the ordinance would have on property values, and also about how it applies to lakes.
If the group determines the ordinance is appropriate for lakes, then no changes will be made and the next topic will be formed, Ostrander said.
“However, if the task force determines, ‘You know what, there are some lakes that this probably makes some sense with and there are some lakes that it maybe doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, we think the code should be modified in this way to compensate for those changes,’ then that’s appropriate,” he said.
Despite the group not operating under a deadline, Ostrander developed a rough outline estimating the group would generate a decision on the lakes issue in the spring. But, the group can always take more or less time, he said.
“We have asked a specific question of the task force, but we don’t want to limit the scope of what the task force wants to accomplish,” he said.