Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell on Thursday approved regulations that would change motor and boating requirements within the Kenai River Special Management Area, but a new proposal from the Department of Natural Resources may give boaters an extra three years to acquire cleaner-burning motors.
According to a press release issued Friday by DNR, the new proposal would change the date for the complete ban of two-stroke motors along the river between Kenai Lake and the Warren Ames Bridge from 2010 to 2013, allowing fishermen a five-year window to acquire the cleaner-burning four-stroke or direct fuel injected two-stroke motors.
Under the new, Parnell-approved regulations, which take effect March 1, two-stroke motors will be banned from the river during July, but will be allowed on the river the rest of the year provided that the motors are no larger than 35 horsepower. The regulation will permit the use of 50 horsepower motors on the river as long as the cleaner technology is used. The regulation also limits overall boat size to no more than 21 feet long and 106 inches wide.
Chris Degernes, chief of field operations for DNR, said comments from Alaskans that converting to the newer technology would be an economic hardship influenced the proposal to move the complete ban from 2010 to 2013. Since the regulations take care of hydrocarbon exceedences during July and larger motors on the Kenai River will have to be the cleaner-burning motors, the public will have more time to obtain the cleaner technology.
"We believe the change during July will significantly reduce hydrocarbons during that month (by) getting all two-strokes off the river," she said.
Degernes said there will be a public comment period through March 7 on the new proposal to extend the phase-in period another three years. She said there isn't going to be a public hearing, but DNR will take written comments.
"We've received quite a bit of comments already," she said. "If people have already commented on these issues, they don't need to comment again."
Robert Ruffner, executive director for the Kenai Watershed Forum, said a lot of people have been struggling with the hydrocarbon issue in the Kenai River for a long time. Finally coming up with regulations that would address hydrocarbons is a positive thing. He said requiring that people use the cleaner-burning motors during the month of July will add a hardship on some, but the regulation will ultimately be better for the river.
"The position our organization has taken (is that) we'd like to not be able to measure hydrocarbons in the Kenai River, period," he said.
Ruffner said that not requiring the cleaner motors outside the month of July is not a good thing, even though dirtier motors may not add enough hydrocarbons to the river to violate state water quality standards.
Dwight Kramer, chairman of the Kenai Area Fisherman's Coalition on the Kenai Peninsula, said his agency worked with Parnell to strike a compromise that would protect small-time recreational fishermen so they wouldn't lose access to the river after 2010. But now that DNR approved the 50 horsepower increase on the river, Kramer said the coalition will draft a letter asking DNR to increase hydrocarbon testing, start turbidity testing in order to establish baseline data, establish a weight criteria to minimize wake erosion and to enforce the 50 horsepower limitation.
"The motors can easily be modified," Kramer said. "You can put a chip in there within about 10 minutes that increases the horsepower to 60 and you can do other modifications to increase it beyond that."
Another issue affecting the river, in addition to hydrocarbon exceedences, is the high levels of turbidity during the month of August. Degernes said the first testing was done last year and while DNR will address those concerns, the information is too new to determine what measures will be taken to address them. She said DNR could further restrict boat weight and the number of persons in a boat at a given time.
"All those things combined could either improve or limit the impacts of turbidity," Degernes said.
Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, said moving the phaseout deadline back an additional three years is more appropriate to accomplish a changeover to the newer technology, but turbidity is a more complex issue.
"Salmon have evolved in turbid habitats," he said. "The hydrocarbon issue has been a much higher priority than the turbidity issue."
Ruffner said turbidity is bad for juvenile fish just like hydrocarbons and arsenic are, but it takes a couple of years to develop baseline data.
"We do see that the river gets awfully muddy (with) 5- or 600 boats running around out there on peak-use days," he said. "It's at least worth investigating."
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at email@example.com.
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