Chicago-based organization joins anadromous stream fight

Mail found in boxes around the borough last week included a national lobbyist take on the upcoming anadromous stream ordinance public hearing. The borough mayor’s office said much of what is posed on the mailer is simply not true.

The National Association of Realtors mailed copies of a post card with several claims that officials with the organization were unable to define or explain as fact based regarding the proposal to amend local law governing salmon bearing waters throughout the borough.

The borough assembly will hold public hearings on a pair of measures that would address the contentious anadromous stream habitat protection Ordinance 2011-12. Ordinance 2013-12, brought forward by assembly member Kelly Wolf, would repeal the anadromous stream ordinance. Ordinance 2013-18 was forwarded to the Kenai Borough Assembly in early spring following nine months of work by a mayor-appointed salmon habitat task force. A majority of the task force supported the measure, which would repeal and replace 2011-12.

In its mailer, the Chicago based National Association of Realtors claims that the stream ordinance: “Mandates a costly time-consuming and unnecessary ‘permit’ system for property owners, limiting the use and control that you have over your property; It would still make you liable for current and future increased property taxes based on the fully assessed but unusable values of your property; It creates an additional, unnecessary and costly layer of borough government oversight with no expertise or resources for enforcement; It will negatively impact the entire Kenai Peninsula as well as all of the west side of Cook Inlet.”

Paul Ostrander, chief of staff for borough Mayor Mike Navarre, said two points are factually incorrect and the last one requires a further explanation to make any sense.

“That’s false,” Ostrander said of claims one and three.

The cards were mailed from Virginia and paid for by the association’s national headquarters in Chicago. When the organization’s spokesperson in Washington D.C. was contacted she referred a list of questions to Michael Droege, the Anchorage based president of the Alaska Association of Realtors and owner of two real-estate offices on the Peninsula.

“Our mission is to protect private property rights,” Droege said.

Droege was unable say in dollars how much the permit system will cost landowners, but did say he doesn’t believe that it will cost nothing as claimed by the borough.

Anytime there is increased government involvement there is a cost associated with it, he said.

“We factor in the cost of compliance,” Droege said.

Under Ordinance 2013-18, Ostrander said, permits for any proposed work or development in the governed zones, within 50 feet of river and stream banks and lakeshores, are free. While there has only been one fine in the last 13 years, Ostrander said that there are hundreds of examples of the borough working with owners to clear up violations.

About 4,000 parcels are to be ruled under the law, if approved by the assembly; most of the land in the increased portion is undeveloped at the moment. The cost is expected to be about $8,000 annually. Outside city boundaries, there is very little in the way of regulation save for gravel pits and pig farms, he said.

There is indeed an enforcement mechanism that runs all the way through the hearing level, Ostrander said of the claim that the borough had neither the expertise nor ability to enforce the regulations.

Droege couldn’t give details of the negative effects to the Kenai Peninsula if the ordinance were to pass. He did suggest a negative impact on land values.

“You can also make the exact opposite argument,” Ostrander said. Providing an example, he said that the values along the Kenai River have not been reduced by nearly 20 years of similar regulation. Should a property be negatively impacted, property values for taxes are based on market sales; if the value goes down so do the taxes.

As now written, the ordinance allows a landowner to tear down and rebuild an existing structure in the zone and has removed references to “fish and wildlife and other natural resources” in favor of only salmon as the motive. About 200 streams have also been removed for lack of solid evidence of salmon. The final appendix of governed waters is due out this week.

“It balances the rights of property owners while protecting resources that belong to everyone,” Ostrander said.

Rather than flatly denying any use, if a landowner wants to do something in the zone that does not damage the salmon habitat then the law allows it. The ordinance, if approved, will still govern what people can and can’t do on their land inside the district — 50 feet from the bank of any waterway on the list. It is the nature of the law, which Ostrander described as “proactive.”

“If the desired action damages habitat then no,” he said.

Tens of millions were spent to restore the banks along the Kenai River when the original boundaries were set in 1996. Billions have been spent down south to rehabilitate salmon habitat in Washington state, Oregon and California. That money came from the taxpayers or individual landowners, Ostrander said.

When total costs to a community or state are considered where a retroactive habitat policy action has occurred, Droege said he wouldn’t speak to salmon habitat remediation costs seen in West Coast salmon states. Most people are “very respectful” with the development of land in Alaska and another layer of bureaucracy taking away property rights is not needed, he said.

“We are as concerned as anyone about salmon habitat,” Droege said.

Calling for the total repeal of Kenai Peninsula Borough Ordinance 2011-12, rather than accept the proposal forwarded by the task force, Droege said, “Alaska has adequate protections in place.”

Ostrander worked as facilitator for the task force, which included two assembly members. He wouldn’t predict the final assembly vote when it comes, except to say that he favors it and the mayor sponsored it.

“I expect the chamber to be full (for Tuesday’s hearing),” he said.

Reach Greg Skinner at greg.skinner@peninsulaclarion.com.

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