New gate won't block beach access

Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2002

One of Nikiski's new neighborhood watch programs won't get in the way of commercial setnet fishing off Salamatof Beach, although the erection of new gate posts at the beginning of Salamatof Beach Road could mean a change in access to the beach.

As a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Agrium, BP, Phillips and Tesoro announced in December that they were taking a united stand to secure their "neighborhood" -- the one-mile strip of road on the Kenai Spur Highway between Mile 21 and 22. This includes provisions to secure this particular road that runs between the Phillips refinery and Tesoro subsidiary Kenai Pipe Line Company.

Although the gate posts are in place, gates have not yet been put up to restrict entrance to the beach through the road. Steve Hoogland, Tesoro's manager of safety and training, said the decision to close off the road would have to be agreed upon by all four companies. But he said they have made arrangements to allow setnetters to get to the road, if they need to.

"In the event that the gate was closed off, we have protocol for those that would need access," Hoogland said. "We would provide keys to people with beach sites."

After consulting with the FBI, the U.S. Coast Guard and Alaska State Troopers, a "no stopping" zone was created to help security there quickly identify and respond to a vehicle that stops in front of the facilities. Heightened security measures also mean more monitoring of areas adjacent to the oil facilities.

Salamatof Beach Road, which offers public access to the beach, is within this mile-long stretch of road, and some Nikiski residents are concerned.

Jeff Fox, Alaska Fish and Game Department's Cook Inlet area management biologist, said there are only two places -- Salamatof Beach Road and Spruce Street in Kenai -- for setnetters to get access to that stretch of beach.

"They're fairly important to access lanes," he said. "There's probably 50 or 60 productive sites, historically."

Agrium safety supervisor Alan Thye admits that far-reaching security concerns sparked the installation of the gate posts on Salamatof Beach Road, but he said there currently are no plans in place that would limit a fisher's ability to enter the beach through that route.

"That has been installed pretty recently," Thye said. "Just in case we have to go to some high-level security, we'll have some way to control access."

But the decision to close the road cannot be made by the four companies alone.

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities district superintendent Carl High said that because Salamatof Beach Road is a state-maintained road, in the event of an emergency, security agencies there would definitely have to communicate with the DOT and troopers before closing it off.

"They would have to let us know what the perceived threat is, and tell us they wanted to close the road," High said. "I have been talking to (the oil companies) about that area. The only thing that we've been dealing with is putting up signs to let people know about the 'no stopping' zone."

Mark Powell, owner of Kenai-based commercial fishing company Alaska Salmon, said some of his employees have had encounters with security but did not find any problems.

"One of my fishermen fishes down there," Powell said. "He has been approached a couple of times by security and worked it out."

They said fishers have no need to be concerned about roving security. He said the security officers who go down to that part of the road are patrolling the road a lot more because the entrance to Phillips is right there.

"We're not chasing anybody out of there by any means," he said. "There's no protocol at all for security to do anything to people."

Kenai Peninsula Fishermen's Association Vice President Paul Shadura said he can appreciate the oil companies' need for security and said he is confident there won't be any conflict.

"These are tenuous times," he said. "I'm sure that there is a process that will be set up. "

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