Editor's Note: This story has been edited to correct an attribution error.
The Kenai City Council is taking steps to address the concerns of local property owners by cutting off access to a portion of beach during the dipnet season to mitigate parking and crowd disturbances residents say have plagued the area.
A resolution suggested by Kenai Mayor Pat Porter and council member Tim Navarre would ask city administration make a recommendation to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to seasonally close vehicle access from Old Cannery Road and move beach access approximately 1,600 feet south at Dunes Road, outside of the city boundary line. The move will restrict passage to the south beach of the popular Kenai River personal use dipnet fishery.
The council also has a proposed ordinance to seasonally prohibit camping, fires and parking in an area in front of south beachfront property owners north of Old Cannery Road. The council will discuss both agenda items at their city council Wednesday meeting.
Navarre said the resolution is a short-term fix to restrict vehicle traffic, which has become unsafe and caused a lot of headaches for private landowners. Dunes Road provides better beach access to deal with the high volume of traffic, he said.
The proposed closure, which excludes emergency and city service vehicles, would improve beach safety, protect private property interests and allow the city to more effectively regulate beach activities during the busy dipnet season, according to language in the resolution.
Kenai resident Bruce Friend, who lives on Old Cannery Road and formed the South Beach Waterfront Landowners Coalition, has been active in bringing his neighborhood’s concerns on south beach access to the city’s attention. Friend spoke at the Kenai harbor commission Monday night and is scheduled to give public comments during the Wednesday council meeting.
While the city is making an attempt to address the issue, Friend said he feels more can be done.
“It is the step in the right direction but we have a ways to go,” he said. “The residents want the city to take the bull by the horns and do something. Kenai has an incredible opportunity to manage the fishery.”
Friend said the city still has not addressed coalition’s safety and environmental concerns. He said he is more concerned about protecting his private property than he is about pedestrian traffic.
Last Thursday, representatives from the City of Kenai, South Beach Waterfront Landowners Coalition and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game met to discuss beach access. Friend, who said he organized the meeting, said Fish and Game agreed to make changes to their website to inform people where to access the beach, while Kenai city manager Rick Koch would contact DNR about moving beach access.
Navarre, who also attended the meeting, said another has been scheduled for April 3 with agencies from DNR, Fish and Game, the Department of Transportation, City of Kenai and Kenai Peninsula Borough to discuss section lines and find a long-term solution with a right of way to better accommodate the dipnet traffic.
Navarre said the resolution and ordinance is a “stop-gap fix” until more options regarding a right of way can be found. He said while parking would be limited, foot traffic would be allowed because he doesn’t want to see too much restriction. He said the city would have to strike a balance to please private homeowners while still finding safe parking areas on the beach away from high tides.
“I am a proponent of finding a solution,” he said. “I don’t give up section lines easy because the public has a right to use. We have to try things and see how they work.”
The ordinance, also sponsored by Porter and Navarre, was introduced as a result of complaints made by south beach property owners about the noise, smoke, garbage, trespass and property damage left behind by users of the dipnet fishery.
Navarre said because the disrupted area is on city land, the city can enact a code during the three-week fishery to limit the camping issues.
At a Jan. 6 dipnet work session, Friend testified to the Kenai City Council that his property was used as a port-a-potty for one month out of the year from all the people camping on the beach in front of his property. He invited all the council members and city administrators to his house to understand what his family has had to deal with. So far, only council members Brian Gabriel and Robert Molloy along with city attorney Scott Bloom have visited his property, he said.
“Everyone who has taken my invitation came away with a different perspective,” he said. “I want the city to understand they need to help not just the citizens, but protect this resource from more eminent danger.”
Friend said while the ordinance to prohibit beach camping in the area in front of his property is a good step, putting multiple signs posted on the beach would be an eyesore.
He said his hope is the city of Kenai can, with the aid of other agencies, demonstrate to state residents that the city has make changes to better manage the fishery and warn visitors what the expectations are so people have the proper information.
“The city is not prepared for the fishery which has grown five times as big,” he said. “The sooner we can make positive changes and stop the public dead in their tracks and come with a plan and have a good time.”
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org