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Kenai enacts free boat launch use outside of dipnet season

Posted: September 4, 2014 - 9:02pm

It may have taken seven years, but Kenai City Council member Mike Boyle’s persistence in providing free boat launch use at the city dock has paid off.

The Kenai City Council enacted a resolution to remove the $25 fee for public use of the city boat launch before and after the dipnet season. The resolution also included free parking for users, excluded during the July 10-31 personal use fishery. The fee for commercial users still applies.

Boyle said the resolution is a compromise from a previous ordinance he sponsored that requested the city provide residents of Kenai with free services of the boat launch and parking.

He said because Kenai residents pay taxes to the city he felt they already pay for the right to use those services. He compared the intent of the resolution Nikiski residents having free use of the community pool.

“This has been an interest of people long before I was on the council for residents to get free access,” Boyle said. “The compromise allows free launch for residents outside of dipnet and is now open to everybody. I accomplished what I set out to achieve.”

In 2007, Boyle first attempted to provide free use of the city dock to Kenai residents but two former city attorneys Krista Stearns and Cary Graves questioned the legality of offering free service to some while charging others.

Kenai City Attorney Scott Bloom said the use of a dedicated dipnet revenue fund for the city dock would make it more difficult to support free use of boat launch for Kenai citizens only because it is not paid through resident taxes.

Kenai City Manager Rick Koch said because the city owns the beach they hold trust for all citizens of Alaska to provide equal access to users. While the issue has come up for several years, three separate legal opinions have stated the city can’t treat one user group differently than another, he said.

Koch said the estimated amount of lost revenue from removal of the fee is approximately $6,000 annually.

Considering that the city dock is only supervised during the dipnet season, he said a small majority of people do not pay the fee.

“The actual affect is minimal to the city,” Koch said. “The only question is are we going to see any significant increase in traffic because it will be free.”

Kenai Mayor Pat Porter and council member Tim Navarre said while they were not against the resolution, they argued it should have been postponed to allow the harbor commission an opportunity to weigh in. Boyle said the harbor commission had previously discussed the issue and would not meet again until October.

Kenai Municipal Code would cause the resolution to disappear after the upcoming council election, he said.

“Whatever happens is in the past,” Porter said. “This is not time sensitive. This warrants more time for the harbor commission to investigate. Look to their advice.”

Navarre said the council shouldn’t force a bill to pass because it would drop off after the election.

“That is not a good way to do business,” he said. “It is not a good argument to ignore the commission.”

Council member Bob Molloy, the harbor commission liaison suggested since the commission meeting had already been cancelled that perhaps a special meeting could have been set and discussed before the council voted on the resolution.

The council opted to vote on the resolution and it passed 5-2 with Porter and Navarre against.

Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com

The council passed three ordinances and two other resolutions Wednesday.

Among those, was an ordinance waiving lease provisions for a lot of airport property to Legacy Electric owner Derek Leichliter, who applied to lease the property for a term of 55 years and construct two T-hangers on the lot. Koch said prior to development, existing silt and organic waste material will need to be excavated and replaced with suitable material to build on.

The council also unanimously passed a resolution and approved a joint resolution with other Kenai Peninsula borough municipalities to request the Alaska Board of Fisheries hold the 2017 Upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting on the Kenai Peninsula.

During their closing comments, every council member recognized the beautiful blossoming wildflowers on Lawton Drive and gave compliments to the Kenai Parks and Recreation Department and Beautification Committee for their work. Koch said with so many people stopping to take pictures in the field the city may be a victim of their own success with trampled flowers. He said building a trail through the field would be a suitable solution for next year.

Kenai Central High School senior Allie Ostrander was selected to be a student representative on the city council and her first meeting will be Sept. 17.

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