Handicap fishing site on the line

Resident demands better enforcement at Soldotna's expense

Posted: Monday, January 17, 2005


  John Smallwood is filing complaints against the city of Soldotna alleging the city is not sensitive to the needs of disabled fishers. Photo by M. Scott Moon

John Smallwood is filing complaints against the city of Soldotna alleging the city is not sensitive to the needs of disabled fishers.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

The lone "handicap only" fishing area in Soldotna might be removed due to many complaints — from a handicapped person.

John Smallwood of Soldotna filed a complaint against the city of Soldotna with the Alaska Commission for Human Rights, signed on December 28. The commission informed the city Jan. 6 that Smallwood claims he has been and is continually discriminated against because the handicap zone is not properly patrolled.

Smallwood claims the city has "failed to maintain appropriate signs and adequately patrol the handicap ramp at Centennial Park," and that he and others with impaired mobility and physical disabilities are unable to fish there.

He said the handicap signs in the area are in strict violation of Americans with Disabilities Act laws.

"They think they are immune to the laws. I say this is not following with human rights because the city won't maintain it, they don't enforce the handicap rules like they should," he said. "I'm calling the ADA next week."

According to Smallwood, who no longer fishes, he regularly calls various departments of law enforcement to the area.

"I've had four or five park rangers go down there and run people out. I've had the state troopers out here half a dozen times at least. When the reds are running it gets busy. It gets dangerous down there, people carrying knives and threatening me with them. Then I'm the guy who gets trouble for packing a gun," he said.

"They seem to think I'm a troublemaker, and maybe I am. I don't have anything else to do but raise hell," Smallwood said.

He said the problems have gone on for "too long" and that his personal patrolling of the area has resulted in conflicts.

"One fisherman told me that if I snagged his $200 L.L. Bean waders, he would kick my a—, and another guy told me he would take his knife and give me a new life," he said.

City Manager Tom Boedeker said it would be a shame to lose the handicap fishing area because of a lawsuit. If the council so chooses, Centennial Park would be changed to a similar status as Rotary Park and Swiftwater Park, which are handicap accessible but not limited to handicap persons only. Boedeker said these zones operate just like anywhere else in fishing season — on a first come, first-served basis. Soldotna city officials discussed the matter at Wednesday evening's city council meeting.

"Having a handicap only area is something I like doing. But this is not something I want if I'm subjecting the city to continuing claims of lawsuits and complaints, and that will be my recommendation to city council," Boedeker said.

He said the complaints have had their price and potential maintenance would be of substantial cost to the city.

"What Smallwood wants is for us to hire people to patrol the area. Well, that park is open for a lot of hours during the summer season, so for 12 hours a day and paying $9 per hour, I imagine it would cost us between $4,500 and $5,000 per month to staff. This is a significant expense, and the city has to ask itself if it has the resources to handle those costs," Boedeker said.

Still, Smallwood said something more is necessary and feels strongly enough about the issue to file the complaint of discrimination.

"They (the city of Soldotna) put up a few signs and some people don't really care about the signs, so disabled people don't have a proper spot to go fishing," Smallwood said in reference to Centennial Park.

The Alaska State Commission for Human Rights stated it could not comment on the complaint at this time.

In other business, the council:

Passed Ordinance 2005-02 accepting a grant from the state Department of Commerce and Economic Development for $50,000. The grant is a response from the state for a joint feasibility water system study in which Soldotna and Kenai applied for $350,000. Now, having gotten less funds than expected, this creates new ideas on what to do with the money.

Boedeker said he was not sure what exactly to do with the grant.

"We wanted to drill some test holes for the water study. But there aren't too many holes we can get for $100,000 in the areas we wanted to investigate. It's really too early to tell what to do now, so we have to wait and see," he said.

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