Ordinance needs stitches, not the guillotine

Talk from some Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly members about dissolving the anadromous streams ordinance it approved last summer is too hasty. The assembly should instead take a deep breath and reason through the issues at hand. We like what Borough Mayor Mike Navarre had to say about his plan to re-examine, vet and mull certain parts of the ordinance that have risen to public concern, but eliminating protection for these critical streams isn’t wise. This editorial board praised the assembly’s approval of the anadromous streams ordinance in January just days after it was implemented on the west side of the borough. The ordinance will protect the fragile near-stream habitat of those waters critical to the health of the Peninsula’s salmon runs. Such regulations have worked for the Kenai River and many other rivers so far and we believe this protection has great forethought for the future of Peninsula’s economy and fisheries. However, there is merit to the discussions currently surrounding this ordinance and those are worth a second look, but throwing the baby out with the bathwater isn’t necessary. Again and again we see two things — the borough hits a bump in the road with implementation of the anadromous streams protection ordinance and some residents would have us abandon the car in the ditch rather than patch the pothole. Rather, we would like the assembly to find the middle ground as they have been. Let’s be realistic — if something needs to be fixed, well then fix it. We need to look at this issue on its own merits and not let rhetoric about government overreach cloud our judgment. That’s how we see this new issue of lakes being included in the protection district. Let’s talk it over with the biologists and the property owners. If we don’t need to protect the lakes, if nobody was aware they would also be included in the ordinance, then make an amendment and change it. But certainly don’t toss the whole ordinance from the books. It is going to take some education and some adjustment, but we generally believe the borough and property owners can play nice. There is a balance between property rights and protection to be found here. Many people likely won’t need to change how they use and interact with their waterfront property because they are already good stewards. And if they need to do some major work in the future, well the River Center is there to help, not hurt. Permits are approved in a timely fashion and staff can advise residents on how to do that work in a way to best benefit the health of the near stream habitat. Also, remember the ordinance’s prior use condition. It’s easy to be afraid of so-called government intrusion on one’s property. What’s harder to do is understand the rules, why they are good for the future, and how we might tweak them so all can live within them. Nobody said this path was going to be easy or popular. Yes, there will be headaches among borough staff and perhaps heartburn among some property owners, but we will overcome those challenges because we must. Leave the politics out and let’s talk about the future of these fish and the critical role the near shore habitat of anadromous streams plays. In short: We would like the assembly to listen to property owners who have concerns and make sensible amendments where necessary, particularly in the case of anadromous lakes. But throwing out the whole ordinance would be a mistake.

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