Before voting on a proposed ordinance filled with recommended changes targeted at the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s anadromous habitat protection code, members of the task force charged with mulling that code and an ordinance expanding it spoke about the issue.
After a four-and-a-half hour Monday night meeting, the Anadromous Fish Habitat Protection Task Force approved, 5-3, its main proposal. Many of the members said they had strong feelings on how they voted.
All members said the task force’s work was valuable, but the three members who voted against the ordinance — Stacy Oliva, Fred Braun and Ray Tauriainen — cited various reasons for their dissension.
Braun said he wouldn’t budge from his demands for a full repeal, which he felt was not accomplished by the proposed amendments.
“Tonight, out of 18 people that spoke, only two spoke in favor of this ordinance ... and that’s consistent with all 10 town hall meetings,” Braun said. “Ninety five to 98 percent of everyone in attendance in the past has spoke against this ordinance.
“I believe that it is overdue that we listen to the people, that we listen to the voters, we listen to the people that support this full repeal and I just will not back down from that.”
Tauriainen said he was still uncomfortable with the inclusion of lakes in the habitat protection district.
“The provisions that have been created and the concessions that have been made that address issues are good, but I would prefer something like a 10-foot buffer,” he said.
Moreover, the assembly member said he felt the borough was already protecting the streams that needed to be protected, and could see more waters added only on a case-by-case basis in the future.
“We don’t have the pressure on those waters that places like Anchorage has, or the Kenai River has,” he said.
Oliva said she agreed and added that she liked the idea of an individual nomination based on a higher use, like how the Kenai River was initially regulated. Oliva also took issue with the “gray area” of those streams included in the appendix.
“I really appreciate the effort that was put into everything up to the appendix portion of this amendment,” she said.
Task force member Ken Tarbox countered Braun’s comments on calls for a repeal. He said he thought it was interesting Braun seemed to forget those residents and organizations who told the task force not to repeal the expansion.
“I think the science is strong that all these anadromous streams need to be protected, not just a selected few and I think that’s very short-sighted in the long term,” he said. “This ordinance isn’t about today. It’s about the future.”
Tarbox said he thought the inclusion of lakes was important as they are critical to salmon production. Moreover, he said the group set a tone by passing the proposal that “we really do care” about salmon. The former biologist also took issue with the claim that private property owners are already protecting streams, which he called “just a falsehood.”
“That does not occur and I can take you to Daniels Lake, your lake, and go around the shore and show you pieces of damage that are done by people that testified here that said that they take care of salmon when they don’t,” he said. “It is not that they intentionally do it, it’s that they don’t know that there are issues and some don’t care. It doesn’t take much to destroy salmon streams.”
Assembly member Bill Smith said he felt the ordinance balanced habitat protection with property rights. Smith talked about the population growth he has seen in his life and how it affects the environment.
“If we look at development in other areas, that development has impacts on the natural environment,” he said. “I wouldn’t contend, and never have, that this habitat protection ordinance is the big savior for salmon. It is a piece of the puzzle and it is a piece that we can address and therefore I think it is our responsibility to address it.”
Member Dr. David Wartinbee, a Kenai Peninsula College biology professor and stream ecologist, said he felt the proposal fixed a majority of the problems the community brought up. He said that the protections, despite the repeal rally cries, were a necessity.
“When people say we need to restart and redo, what would we do that’s better than what this does? Not much,” he said.
He said it is a scientific fact that salmon will be destroyed if the habitat isn’t protected, especially in northern climates where habitats are less complex and more fragile.
“I keep hearing folks say that, ‘I’m all about fish, I’m all about the fish,’” he said. “Well, you know what? If you are all about fish, you better be all about this.”
Task force facilitator and borough chief of staff Paul Ostrander said he felt the ordinance struck a balance, and — contrary to some allegations — is not a taking or that the borough is stealing land.
“If you truly love salmon, then there is nothing in here that would prohibit you from doing something on the water that you live on that wouldn’t damage the habitat,” he said.
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.