The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted down an ordinance last week that would have required more thorough reporting and examination of the benefits and effectiveness of the borough’s andaromous habitat protection code.
The assembly debated the ordinance for more than a half hour on March 19, with some assembly members questioning whether or not its provisions were redundant and other saying they were satisfied with the current review process.
Ordinance 2013-08 failed, 1-5, with assembly member and ordinance sponsor Kelly Wolf casting the loan vote of approval. The ordinance requested the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Department collect a variety of data and generate an annual written report to assess the benefits of KPB 21.18. That section of borough code outlines the 50-foot anadromous waters habitat protection, a recent of expansion of which has forced public dialogue and a borough administration-created task force to examine its pros and cons and suggest targeted changes to it.
Wolf’s newest effort to address the anadromous habitat code comes on the heels of his failed attempt to repeal a recent expansion of that code.
In addition to the annual written report, Wolf’s ordinance would have the planning department analyze all expenses required to implement, enforce and oversee all borough habitat protection ordinances. The ordinance would have also required a list of permits issued, applications declined and the number of violations recorded.
It also required that a number of pieces of information not directly related to the code be reported, such as the results of borough outreach education events, the number of river miles closed to foot traffic to protect banks, the total number of commercial operators that navigate anadromous rivers and streams and the total number of permitted projects that failed or required reconstruction, among others.
Kenai resident Christine Hutchison said the ordinance is an ideal, “concrete” opportunity for the assembly and borough to present their case that the code is important to keep in place. She added that she couldn’t imagine a reason to not approve the measure.
“This is a very simple way for the (Donald E. Gilman) River Center or planning department to bring together all of the facts surrounding this ordinance so it can be very simply presented to the public and they can know there is extreme value in going forward with this ordinance, or there’s not.”
“I absolutely would support a review process, and that’s all I have to say,” said Stacy Oliva, a Nikiski resident and member of the Anadromous Fish Habitat Protection Task Force.
Assembly member Bill Smith spoke against the ordinance. He said the borough’s existing code has language requiring an annual report and a five-year staff review. He said that 17 of the 26 items requested in Wolf’s ordinance are not related to the borough’s habitat protection code.
“The total Clean Water Act violations reported? The Clean Water Act is not regulated by the borough. The total number of river miles closed to foot traffic? The borough has never and doesn’t have the authority under 21.18 to close river miles to foot traffic,” he said. “... So these requirements here are specious and not related to 21.18. We have a review process in place, we have a review in front of us that came before the planning commission and will be before the assembly.
“So I don’t see that this is a positive thing and I think that it is not appropriate to have most of these things done under 21.18.”
Wolf said that all the ordinance would do is give the data to the planning commission and the public so “they can pay attention.”
South Peninsula assembly member Mako Haggerty said he would vote no on the ordinance based on the planning commission previously unanimously voting the ordinance down.
“It is really difficult for me to consider this with a unanimous vote against it by the planning commission,” he said. “I’ll just read a couple of the comments that are in the minutes. ‘This ordinance would be a waste of time and energy.’ One said that they couldn’t vote for it because, ‘This is a waste of tax dollars.’”
Assembly member Charlie Pierce agreed there might be redundancy in the ordinance, but advocated to postpone the measure to allow Wolf to rework it.
Moreover, Pierce said he wanted to add in a clause that would add a cost-benefit analysis and report on the code’s effectiveness.
“I think until you know what it costs and what it is worth to you as a taxpayer, how can you say it is the right thing to do?” he said. “Or how can we sit up here and oppose something like that?”
The motion to postpone failed, 2-4, with the yes votes cast by Wolf and Pierce.
“I think maybe the one component that we tend to miss in the borough, not only with this ordinance or this subject — and it is common — is to measure the cost effectiveness of what we are doing,” Pierce said.
“How will we know what the benefits are?” assembly member Brent Johnson said. “I can see that we can count the costs, we can always add up how many dollars and cents the borough is spending, but it is very difficult to measure vegetation saved, or salmon saved.”
Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said the ordinance seemed to be “driven in the heat of the moment.” He added that it contained items not well defined in their purpose and use to “anybody in the real world.”
Navarre said he would like to see a “reasoned, deliberative” approach to identify what the assembly feels is missing from the reports currently required and fix them.
“I don’t disagree that there is some additional reporting that could be done, but on a reactionary basis, to try and rewrite this in two meetings or four meetings, it really doesn’t make sense right now from my standpoint,” he said.
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.