Kenai city council holds dipnet work session Tuesday

The Kenai City Council will hold another work session to discuss the dipnet fishery at 6 p.m. tonight at City Hall.

 

City Manager Rick Koch said the work session is a continuation of discussion from the previous work session on Jan. 6 in which the council reviewed the 2013 Dipnet Fishery Report and heard public testimony on citizens’ concerns as the City of Kenai prepares for the 2014 season.

Koch said the two main issues for the council to consider is how to manage public safety and cleanliness in dealing with the thousands of people that arrive at the mouth of the Kenai River for the July 10-31 dipnet season.

In an attempt to receive help on both matters, Koch attended the Board of Fisheries meeting in Anchorage last month on behalf of the City of Kenai and requested an end to the 24-hour opening of the Kenai River dipnet fishery. The BOF denied that request.

Koch said he would make a recommendation to council to close the beach between the hours of 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. to allow the city time to clean the beach. Because the city owns the land, it is within its authority to close the beach as a measure of safety and public health, he said.

Koch said the city needs time to clean up the fish waste left by dipnetters, service toilets and pick up Dumpsters and the best opportunity to do so is in the evening. The council gave administration the authority to close the beach during 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. last year in July.

The Parks and Recreation Department uses heavy equipment and trucks in the clean up process and if people were fishing at night, there is a risk of people getting hit, he said.

“Whether there are 100 people out fishing in the middle of the night is 100 too many to cleanup safely,” he said. “It is a safety issue that has little effect on the fishery.”

The Kenai Watershed Forum has concerns if the city goes forwards with a proposal to close the beach for a time during the dipnet season.

At the Feb. 19 Kenai City Council meeting, Kenai Watershed Forum Executive Director Robert Ruffner addressed the council on the unintended impact of beach closure. He said if the city restricts access to the water at night, potentially people could try to gain river access upstream and disrupt wetland vegetation, rather than migrating to the traditional fishing areas on the sand.

Ruffner said he was disappointed with the state’s lack of protection of the Kenai River.

“We spent a lot of time and energy to help take care of the river,” he said. “(The state) needs to get it together.”

Ruffner said the impact of people walking on wetland vegetation could be devastating. He said it takes 10-15 years to get the natural vegetation to come back if the damage is severe enough.

Among other items of discussion during the dipnet season, Koch said the city is considering the elimination of on-street parking in Old Town and in-park parking without a permit in Municipal Park to alleviate traffic congestion and parking problems. The city is also looking to eliminate on-street parking along South Forest Drive to make the roads safe and passable, he said.

Koch said one of the items they did not get to at the last work session is an amendment in the fee schedule. In 2013, parking and camping fees to the north and south beaches increased to help offset the costs of garbage removal and cleanup efforts, according to the report from Kenai Finance Director Terry Eubank.

The time period for parking fees was changed from 12 hours from the time of payment to 24 hours beginning daily at 5 a.m. Camping fees were charged per night and required campers to vacate their site by noon. The report said, “significant confusion occurred with this fee structure and the department will be recommending a change in fee structure for the 2014 fishery.”

Revenues for 2013 were $673,292, nearly $43,000 less than the budgeted amount, according to the report.

At the Jan. 6 work session, the council heard complaints from several citizens on the enforcement in the south beach area off Old Cannery Road. Koch said ATV four-wheelers were common in the area given the distance to walk from parking to the water. He said people may try to convince the city to close motorized traffic in south beach and step up enforcement of camping and campfires, but if such events do not occur on city property, there is nothing the city can do, he said.

“Trying to catch four-wheelers is like trying to catch water in your hand,” he said.

Following the dipnet work session, the council will also discuss expenditures from miscellaneous Legislative funds and discuss a change in council travel policy.

 

Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com

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