2 charged after illegal gravel dumping in Kenai River

The Kenai River flows by the newly restored riverbank of Dow Island on Saturday, May 27, 2017 in Funny River, Alaska. A group of four property owners banded together this spring to install the extensive project to protect the bank of the island in the Kenai River from rapid erosion. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

Two men are facing charges after dumping gravel in the Kenai River related to an erosion problem on Dow Island.

 

The state has levied charges against Steve Flick of Missouri and Jason Foster of Soldotna after an investigation into an incident in which Foster’s company, North Star Paving, allegedly dumped gravel into the Kenai River at Flick’s instruction, violating the terms of Flick’s state permits through the Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. The charges, filed July 26, date from an incident on June 9, according to court documents.

The issue dates back to December 2016, when a group of four landowners applied for permits to install a riverbank revetment on Dow Island, a small island around mile 42 of the Kenai River separated from the mainland along Funny River by a channel about 30 feet wide. The property owners, who include Flick, have been watching their land erode steadily over the years but the erosion has accelerated recently, and applied for the permits to install their own revetment to mitigate the erosion.

The various state agencies that oversee the Kenai River — including the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Habitat, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the Department of Environmental Conservation — granted the permits in January, and the landowners completed the project in April and May. At the time, Flick, who runs a construction company during most of the year in Missouri, said he expected the revetment to last 50 years.

However, in June, another landowner on the island called both the borough’s Donald E. Gilman River Center and Flick to report active erosion on one of the areas where the revetment had gone in, according to an affidavit from park ranger Melissa Smith.

“(The lot owner) also notified Flick of the erosion, because he feared the root wads could come loose from the riverbank and wash downstream,” the affidavit stated.

River Center Manager Tom Dearlove called Smith to report that someone might be on the property attempting to place gravel fill in the river to stop the erosion. When Smith arrived on the island to investigate, she found a man standing by the bank and a “large pile” of rock fill deposited below the ordinary high water mark, according to the affidavit. Anything below the high water mark is technically state park jurisdiction, as part of the Kenai River Special Management Area.

The man by the bank said he was working for Flick through North Star Paving and that he had driven a John Deere loader across the channel from Funny River Road to the island to place the fill in the river. He said he didn’t have a permit to cross the river channel to the island and didn’t know he needed one. A dump truck delivering the fill had also crossed twice, he said.

Smith said she let him drive back across the channel to exit the island and observed a “large plume” of sediment disrupted from the river bottom as the machine crossed the water, which was about 2 feet deep, she wrote in the affidavit. Through some of the worker’s observations and her own, she also found that some workers had dumped gravel in the channel near the crossing, which was not allowed in any of the permits, according to the affidavit.

In a later interview Smith conducted with Foster, he said Flick had called him and asked him to place the gravel in the river. Altogether, the company placed about 18 tons of gravel in the river, according to the affidavit. Smith said he told her he didn’t ask for permission before doing it because it was an emergency situation with the root wad threatening to wash out.

The permits from the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation that Flick held allowed equipment to cross the river channel only when it was completely dry or had “minimal” water in it, according to the affidavit. The permit from Fish and Game’s Division of Habitat only allowed equipment crossing in the early spring or toward the end of the scheduled working period, which was in May.

“The channel crossings that occurred on June 9, 2017 violate the conditions of both those permits, because there was approximately 2 feet of flowing water present in the deepest portion of the crossing, which exceeds dewatered or low water stream conditions,” the affidavit states.

Flick is charged with four counts of the improper protection of fish and game, all class A misdemeanors, all related to contracting North Star Paving to place the gravel in the river and building the gravel ramp on the channel, two counts of interference with a salmon spawning stream, which is an unclassified misdemeanor, and two counts of violating the terms of a special park use permit, according to the charging documents.

Foster is charged with three counts of improper protection of fish and game, one count of interference with a salmon spawning stream, an unclassified misdemeanor, and one charge of violating the terms of a special park use permit, also an unclassified misdemeanor.

Another property owner involved in the project, Joseph Losciuto, was originally charged in relation to violating the terms of his special parks use permit, but the state dismissed the charge on Sept. 6.

The next court date, to be held in Kenai District Court, is scheduled for Thursday.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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