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Kenai council opposes 24-hour dipnet fishery opening

Kenai council opposes 24-hour fishery opening

Posted: January 17, 2013 - 9:01pm

Kenai City Manager Rick Koch will write to Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell to ask that the city’s dipnet fishery not be pushed to a 24-hour opening like it was last year. All members of the Kenai City Council agreed to add their signatures to the letter at its meeting Wednesday night.

“It just puts the city at a hardship,” Mayor Pat Porter said. “It comes without warning.”

Council Member Brian Gabriel Sr. said the letter will be the first of its kind because, following last season’s beach-side trash — fish heads, human waste, beer cans, diapers — the city has to take action.

“Probably the biggest complaint that I heard from the citizens is that the beach is a mess (during the dipnet season),” Gabriel said.

The normal operating hours for the fishery are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week, July 10-31. That gives city crews time to comb the beach with tractors to remove the waste.

“If we have that window from 11 at night to 5 in the morning, we could get a lot of work done,” he said.

However, when the fishery is extended to a 24-hour opening the city crews can not effectively clean the beaches. The large tractors and their equipment are too dangerous to use when dipnetters are on the beach, Koch said.

Also, the 24-hour extension is often announced on short notice, Gabriel said, which makes it difficult to scramble the already thinly-spread fishery crews.

Another problem the 24-hour opening causes is the increased noise from motor boats, Gabriel said. He said a number of residents in the VIP subdivision have complained.

“I think the idea is to give Fish and Game something to think about,” Gabriel said. “The idea is there’s impact with the decisions they make to the city of Kenai.”

Koch’s letter, Porter hopes, will open a conversation with Fish and Game. She said she thinks they are listening already, and Koch said Gov. Sean Parnell and Campbell have been supportive in the past.

There will be a work session Feb. 6 to discuss dipnet issues further. The council will meet at 5:30 p.m. in city hall, 210 Fidalgo Avenue.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the council reallocated $141,052 to cover Kenai Fire Department’s overtime pay.

It is an annual problem for the city, Koch said. Over the past five years the fire department’s overtime pay has been rising, according to a spreadsheet Koch presented to the council.

The largest factor is paying staff during leave, Koch said. The department has 15 firefighters and each takes a minimum of 240 hours of leave per year, he said. He said the firefighter’s leave pay accumulates quickly because they work 24 hour shifts, so, for instance, a three-day leave would rack up 72 hours of leave pay.

And the problem, he said, is irreparable if the department is to continue its standards of operations.

Fewer staff would lower the required leave pay, but the department would not be able to effectively respond to fires.

The council also set the date for a work session to discuss the estuary rehabilitation project. They will meet Jan. 22 at 6 p.m.

Dan Schwartz can be reached at daniel.schwartz@peninsulaclarion.com.

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