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Stream debate still flowing

Posted: January 9, 2013 - 10:49pm  |  Updated: January 10, 2013 - 10:18am

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly chambers were standing room only Tuesday night as tension mounted over the anadromous waters habitat protection code and an ordinance to repeal its recent expansion.

Although the pressure rose, those waiting for the balloon to pop were out of luck as the meeting reflected the year-and-a-half-long issue itself — a lot of debate and little action. An ordinance to repeal recent protections was withdrawn, an ordinance addressing public notification of zoning districts received no comment and those in attendance shuffled home to live to fight another day.

Before all that, however, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre addressed what he called “fear mongering” and demands for immediate action on the half-implemented ordinance that would expand existing near-shore habitat protections to all anadromous waters in the borough.

“I guess I’ve just heard people say, ‘You need to do this now, you need to do this now, you need to do this now,’” he said during his mayor’s report. “Public bodies can’t do things that way. You have to bring something before it and there has to be the public hearing process that allows the public their input in this process.

“All that we have asked for, my administration, was the opportunity to do some of that and to come back to the assembly with some of that. I hope that the public that are here will afford (us) that opportunity.”

Assembly member Kelly Wolf has other ideas. He proposed an ordinance to scratch the expansion measure — Ordinance 2011-12 — from the books, but withdrew it before it was introduced due to concerns about possible violations of Alaska’s Open Meetings Act. Wolf’s ordinance would have also called for a roll back of the regulations and an administrative review and assessment of the benefits of enforcing and regulating the entire anadromous streams habitat protection code.

“I do not want questions and clouds surrounding an ordinance and trying to push it forward just because of being, you know, a bullhead,” he said. “I don’t believe that is the right process.”

Wolf had little to say about the bulk of his ordinance, but thanked the crowd for their interest.

“It will come back in some form,” he said. “I believe very strongly in that.”

In the ordinance, Wolf claimed the borough’s “previous administration was unduly influenced” by the Kenai Watershed Forum and the Alaska Clean Water Actions in how they handled the habitat protection code. Wolf further alleged the watershed forum crossed the line from being a non-profit to being a lobbying agency influencing legislation.

Assembly member Bill Smith said that allegation was “completely unwarranted” and was an “inflammatory attack on a non-profit and its director” referring to the watershed forum and Robert Ruffner, who attended the meeting but did not testify.

Smith said Wolf should not make those statements again and it would be “quite appropriate” for him to apologize.

The assembly unanimously approved a measure — Ordinance 2012-39 sponsored by Ray Tauriainen and Smith — that seeks to remedy the fact many area residents said they felt blindsided by the ordinance’s implementation.

While the borough attorney’s office has maintained the issue was properly noticed while the assembly was considering it, residents complained they only received mail notice of the new regulations after their approval. Ordinance 2012-39 now requires mail notice to owners of property located inside a zoning district that is proposed to be created, amended or abolished. If an amendment to an existing zoning district involves increasing or decreasing its size, notice is only required for those with a changed status.

Navarre addressed the notification issue in his mayor’s report, saying that while residents will have another opportunity to comment to the assembly once the task force finishes its work, residents have the responsibility to stay informed. He said the issue had three public hearings, each of which is noticed by the borough.

“It’s online, it’s in the papers, and so if you are not aware of what’s going on, I just have to tell you, as a citizen of the Kenai Peninsula Borough you bear some responsibility,” he said. “Pay attention.”

Borough Chief of Staff Paul Ostrander gave the assembly an update before the meeting on how the Anadromous Fish Habitat Protection Task Force has progressed.

“The main thing we learned was that the question was too narrow,” he said referring to the original issue of whether or not lakes were appropriate for regulation. “After listening to all of these folks and listening to some of the concerns, we needed to broaden the scope of what we were looking at. That was pretty much across the board.”

Ostrander said the task force members have become more educated after digesting more than 10 hours of presentations, asking questions of experts and listening to scores of public testimony. The consensus is, he said, that changes need to be made.

“Some felt there were major changes that should be made, and others felt that minor changes were more appropriate,” he said.

Ostrander said the group’s next step is to finish drafting amendments by mid-February, which they will take out to public meetings in Nikiski, Moose Pass, Sterling and Kasilof. Those meetings will be designed to gather the public’s comments before the task force meets again to discuss them, consider the recommendations again and deliver them to the administration and assembly in mid-April, he said.

Tuesday’s assembly meeting also included public testimony from those on both sides of the issue.

Kasilof fisherman and poet Steve Schoonmaker said he came to “speak for the fish.” Before he shared a poem he wrote called “Deposit,” he addressed the assembly about protecting anadromous waters.

“We all know how precious the Kenai River is,” he said. “The past is gone and the future is coming. What do we do now about now? If Soldotna is the seat of the government and the Kenai River is the backbone of Soldotna there needs to be spine to regulation to protect it. These waters and fish belong to no one, but everyone.”

George Pierce, also a Kasilof resident, said 1,600 people have signed a petition against the ordinance. He asked the assembly why it “continually fights against the will of the people.”

“Next meeting I come to I’m going to bring a list and I’m going to read off, if I have to, for three minutes of the people who are on that list,” he said. “I wish somebody would respond somehow and just tell us we don’t matter and I’ll quit coming. But, like I keep telling you, you are elected by us and we don’t like this ordinance.”

Taking another approach, Assembly Member Charlie Pierce said the entire idea of habitat protection is “missing the mark.” He said the real issue is the number of guide boats fishing the river during the summer. Pierce also said the borough’s “hammer approach” was not right and that he’d rather see people work together on a solution.

“We as a group of people need to grab a hold of what the real problem is,” he said. “We’ve got (code 21.18) and we are haggling over this and I don’t think that is fixing a damn thing for us.”

Brian Smith can be reached at

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Unglued 01/10/13 - 01:53 pm
The Real Problem

So Assemblyman Charlie Pierce thinks habitat protection is "missing the mark," does he? I'm not sure what mark he's talking about, but when salmon don't have good spawning and rearing habitat, they cease to exist. This has been proven time and time again, everywhere salmon have been known to occur. Fifty feet of area where development is (loosely) limited is little enough to give up for ensuring that we'll always have salmon. Fish habitat isn't usually destroyed by a single event. It's destoyed slowly, a "death of a thousand cuts." And when it's gone, and when the fish are gone, people just shake their heads and wonder what happened. To acknowledge that they caused the problem would seem to be the thing to do, but it's easier and less painful to put the blame on others.

If the assemblyman wants to limit the number of guides on the Kenai River he'll probably have to do it in court. Nothing else seems to have any affect. As to whether the "number of guide boats" are the "real issue," I'd hazard a guess that the issue is too many power boats, and beyond that, just too many people.

And while I'm on a rant, here's a parting shot for those of you who won't tolerate the guvmint telling you what you can and can't do with your land: If you do harm to something or someone in ignorance, you're a fool; but if you do harm to something or someone with the knowledge that you're doing harm, you're evil. If you stick your heads in the sand about fish habitat, you'll eventually pay the price.

Norseman 01/10/13 - 11:37 am
...:Assembly member Bill

...:Assembly member Bill Smith said that allegation was “completely unwarranted” and was an “inflammatory attack on a non-profit and its director” referring to the watershed forum and Robert Ruffner, who attended the meeting but did not testify.

Smith said Wolf should not make those statements again and it would be “quite appropriate” for him to apologize.

Who does smith think he is? Where does he get off trying to stifle the free speech of another assembly member?

Last I heard the 5th amendment was alive and well.

I have no bones to pick with the watershed forum, however, I have watched them grow from a small simple volunteer group into a politically active and powerful force.

I think mr smith owes the entire peninsula an apology for being ignorant on the 5th amendment.

I want assembly people who are willing to say it like it is.

wilsonro 01/11/13 - 10:31 am

WOW! that is one heck of a rant. Why don't we see some real numbers and science behind this ordinance, I haven't seen any yet. I have lived near and on one of these Lakes being affected by this ridiculous ordinance for 36 years. I played around and observed this habitat since I was a kid. I have seen no interest for well over thirty years in the salmon habitat on this lake and its tributaries since I was a small child. When I was a kid we were allowed to snag at the mouth of Bishop Creek and for at least twenty years or more you can only fish for Rainbows, I guess for the last twenty plus years Fish and game had no plans for managing this salmon run and now fish and game and the borough think there is a problem, how can there be a problem when they don’t even know what a healthy salmon return is. I seen Halbouty creek full of reds this August! Let’s we the people run the Government, not the Government run the people. Unglued what you need to think about is the Government taking thousands of cut’s, slowly taking away our constitutional rights to govern ourselves. Unglued let’s take you and all the other borough assembly members that are in favor of shoving this ordinance down our throats and take a big chunk of yours and their property and restrict the use of a it for moose habitat, there is more studies right now on the moose population then bishop Creeks salmon run. This ordinance stinks of self-interest and opinions not science.

Unglued 01/11/13 - 11:32 am
For the Wilsonros out there

There is no end of "real numbers and science" when it comes to salmon habitat. Hundreds of studies are accessible to the public on the Internet. I've looked at many, and one thing I came to realize is that studies don't fix degraded habitat. Something else I realized is that education alone isn't enough. People will never know enough or care enough to do what's right to prevent degradation of fish habitat, a subject far more complex than most of us can even imagine.

So, how do we protect the places that salmon need for breeding and rearing? Put another way, how do we prevent Alaska from becoming another Oregon, Washington or Northern California?

One relatively effective and inexpensive way to prevent serious habitat damage is for a city, county, state or federal agency to have ordinances designed to protect the habitat. Such ordinances are pretty much "self-enforcing" because most people want to do what's right. Here on the Kenai Peninsula, our local, elected borough assembly members have taken the wise step of doing just this. I applaud them for their far-sightedness. The alternative is to do nothing, and to stand by and watch as one thing after another degrades what fish require to thrive. The alternative is to do what the people in the Northwest did, which was too little, too late. Is that what we want for Alaska?

This is one of those times when the old "We don't care how they do it Outside" has real meaning. Let's not do what they did Outside.

santini 01/15/13 - 02:21 pm
Stream Debate Still Flowing

Mr. Bill Smith, Assembly Member, resorted to the frequently used technique of expressing "phony outrage" when encountering criticism to his point of view. This is meant to immediately neutralize and then suppress any further opposition. Unfortunately in modern discourse this works all too well. A better approach for Mr. Smith is to challenge Mr. Wolf and demand that he produce evidence that there is 'undue' influence by the Watershed Forum on public policy. After all, it is a prohibition for non-profit organizations (such as the Watershed Forum) to lobby public agencies.

I, for one, would like to know if it is appropriate for the Executive Director of the Watershed Forum to sit on a local Road Board or as a voting member of the Borough's Planning Commission. There may not be a 'legal' prohibition for the Executive Director to sit on this board and commission, but it sure places the Executive Director in the position of APPEARING to use these positions to advocate for policies favorable to the Watershed Forum. If I were sitting on Board of the Watershed Forum I would be very concerned that this may cause uninvited scrutiny about the organization's non-profit status. So, Mr. Smith, instead of demanding apologies and expressing phony outrage, demand that Mr. Wolf's criticism be aired in public. The Assembly, as the people's representatives, can make a judgment as to whether it was "completely unwarranted" and an "inflammatory attack" as you describe. The issue would be put to rest and public would be much better served.

In another part of this article, the Mayor makes an impassioned plea for the people to "pay attention". I believe that people ARE paying attention. In large numbers (1,600 have signed a petition to repeal the Ordinance) they have decided that Ordinance 2011-12 is more about 'zoning' than 'saving the fish'. The Mayor has also complained publicly that he has never spent so much executive time on a single issue. His reaction indicates that from the beginning he has totally miscalculated the public's concerns about further implementation of fish habitat protection. Perhaps it time for the Mayor to also 'pay attention'.

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