Kenai residents agreed that the city during dipnet season has morphed into a destination or party spot for all Alaskans. And it’s a trend the Kenai River cannot support, they said.
“It’s become a time of year for people from the Valley to come down and trash the beach,” said Megan Every, a Kenai resident. “The city needs to start putting limits on it.”
The Kenai City Council held its first work session Monday regarding the 2012 Dipnet Fishery Report. City officials highlighted last year’s pros and cons then council members and concerned residents discussed the future of the fishery.
The report highlights revenues and expenditures to the city as well as problems associated with more users accessing the river. To mitigate the influx of dipnetters, City Manager Rick Koch proposed increasing efforts to move fish waste to the beaches’ shores during low tides and collect other solid waste in new Dumpsters.
The Kenai Peninsula experienced its busiest dipnet season to date in 2012. Last year’s non-grant revenues exceeded the previous year’s revenues by 19.7 percent, totaling $473,161.03. The increase in revenues was attributed to a $5 camping fee increase and a larger number of participants.
Expenditures totaled $482,070.26, and the city experienced a net loss of $8,909.23.
A persistent fish waste problem accompanies those increases in use. The city intends to pursue an “aggressive” program to mitigate waste on the north and south beaches.
Koch laid out his plan for 2013 in the latter half of the work session. He outlined six possible methods to deal with increasing waste. In the end, he suggested the second alternative: additional Dumpsters on the north and south beaches and raking the fish waste during low tides.
The alternative would require the purchase of a second tractor for raking the north beach. The tractor, signage and other additional capital costs are estimated at $99,000, and additional operating costs are estimated at $73,350.
This alternative would result in the lowest increase in users fees and would expand current operations rather than creating costly new systems, Koch said. It is a measured approached to the growing fish waste problem and would not completely fix the beaches, he said.
“This year, it’d be worth trying number two, and through better education improve clean-up, and see what happens from there,” Koch said.
Residents commenting at the work session adamantly opposed the measured approach. Instead, they pushed for alternative four, the prohibition of any fish waste disposal on the beaches or in the waters of the river. Users would be required to take whole fish home. According to Koch, six additional officers would be needed for enforcement.
“The only viable option is four,” Every said. “It will take enforcement in the beginning, but with word of some $500 citations going around it will work.”
Megan Smith, a VIP subdivision resident, echoed Every’s choice, as did other attendees.
“It’s not the city’s responsibility to clean up everyone else’s trash,” Smith said. “If it ends up strewn from here to wherever, it becomes a state problem, and this is a state fishery.”
The council members responded positively to the residents’ suggestions. Robert Molloy and Kenai City Mayor Pat Porter, who was absent from the session but had her decisions relayed by another member, chose alternative four as the optimal route.
Residents also spoke in favor of putting more pressure on the state and its agencies to alleviate the burgeoning “Woodstock of Alaska,” as one attendee described the three-week dipnet season. Council member Tim Navarre said the city should take a stronger stance with the state.
“(That is to say), we should make sure there’s legislation … but we can’t just pass on the problem; it makes us no better than the state agencies,” he said.
The comments about the lack of state government support of the fishery put Koch on the defensive. The purpose of the dipnet report, he said, was how to deal with waste, and if there is a larger goal the council needs to identify it.
The report also contains details of the 2012 dipnet season from the Kenai Police Department, the Public Works Department and the Finance Department, among others. The full report is accessible on the city’s website at http://www.ci.kenai.ak.us/.
Police experienced their heaviest workload from July 17 to July 22, as they assisted the city’s dock crews with vehicle traffic, Police Chief Gus Sandahl wrote in the report.
Sandahl shared his department’s fishery findings during the first half of the work session.
Among the findings, dipnet-related calls to the Police Department increased from 121 in 2011 to 142 in 2012. The number of dipnet-related citations nearly doubled, from 59 in 2011 to 106 in 2012.
“Citations are going up. Part of this may be that (the Kenai Police Department) was less tolerant of violations,” Sandahl said. “We were far too lenient in 2010.”
In 2010, the police issued a total of six dipnet-related citations.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at email@example.com.