David Carey doesn't fish and he doesn't plan to, he simply loves the Kenai River. As mayor of a city that takes its fishing seriously, Carey's lack of fishing experience and knowledge of the political and public process may be what prompted members of the Kenai River Special Management Area advisory board to elect him president.
"I think it's going to be a healthy challenge," Carey said. "I don't have a lot of knowledge of the content of all the regulations (but) I know how to run meetings and I know how to organize things."
Throughout Carey's political career as mayor of Soldotna and former member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly, no politician touched the fishing issue, it was too dangerous. Anglers, guides, commercial fishermen and private land owners along the Kenai River all wanted a say in how to manage the Kenai River, Carey said. When the KRSMA board began looking for a common person with no fishing interest in the river six months ago, Carey appointed himself to the board.
Carey said the board nominated seven members as candidates for board president and went through about five secret ballots before deciding on a single person. Even though Carey has only been KRSMA board president for a couple of weeks, he already presided over the last half of the board's Jan. 10 meeting and restructured the different KRSMA board committees by appointing chair persons.
"I believe we're going to see the KRSMA board function much better," he said. "(It will be) a much more public-friendly process."
The KRSMA board has a lot of work to do and Brenda Trefon, an at-large member of the board, said with Carey's leadership, she's confident the board will have a good year. Carey's restructuring of the committees and his requirement that meeting agendas be made public a week in advance will allow everyone's opinion to be heard when the board makes its recommendations.
"We're working very hard to get the river off the impaired status, so making changes to take the two-stroke motors off the river, that's something that has been in the works for several years," Trefon said. "We have to make the decisions that are best for the river. We have to look at the habitat, we have to look at the water quality, the safety issues; the decisions that are made are not taken lightly."
Getting the Kenai River off of the Environmental Protection Agency's list of impaired water bodies not only means addressing hydrocarbon exceedences, it also means reducing the river's turbidity level. Dick Hahn, another at large member, said the Kenai Watershed Forum discovered last August that because of the high volume of boats on the river each summer, the river's turbidity level or its murkiness exceeds state turbidity standards as well. For many years Hahn recommended conducting a sediment survey of the river from Soldotna to the mouth because, he said, hydrocarbons aren't created equal; some float and some sink and get picked up by the river's sediment.
"Even if the turbidity is clean, it's not good for young fish," he said. "But if it's got hydrocarbon toxins in it it's definitely not good for fish."
Each committee on the KRSMA board will look at various pieces of the river management puzzle. Hahn, who sat on the Soldotna airport commission and chaired the city's library board, said whenever municipal committees recommended action they would bring their recommendations to the Soldotna city council. Under Carey's leadership he hopes the KRSMA committees will work in much the same way, each discussing an issue and making its own recommendations before bringing them before the entire board.
"The mayor is very familiar with that process," he said. "I think it's a very good way to operate. I think (Carey's leadership) will be more assertive. He's already in the first week or so since he's been elected and he's demonstrated that because he already appointed committee chairs."
Hahn also pointed out an irony in Carey's ascension to the role of KRSMA board president: Carey's predecessor, Ken Lancaster, is a former Soldotna mayor. Carey's term as Soldotna mayor is up in 2008, and even though he plans to run for borough mayor, he doesn't think it'll take away from his ability to serve as KRSMA board president.
"One of the things I've always heard is if you ask a busy person to do something they seem to get it done," he said. "I am a very efficient and organized person. I think I will do a good job."
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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