The state's top resource manager has agreed to a request from Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley to reconsider his approval of the Kenai Area Plan.
The plan sets land-use classifications for more than 5.3 million acres of state lands -- dry, tidal and submerged -- within the borough. It designates land for uses such as recreation, wildlife habitat and settlement and determines which parcels the borough can choose to complete its land entitlement from the state.
The Department of Natural Resources released a draft plan for public comment in 1998, announced changes in November and took comments on those until Dec. 17. Bagley took office in early November. On Dec. 20, he wrote the state challenging the draft plan.
"The state is willing to let us select mountainsides and swamps, but when it comes to valuable land, it seems that for habitat reasons, the state has closed the door," he said last month.
He asked the state to open more land for borough selection, including parcels on the shores of Kenai, Lower Trail and Packer's Creek lakes. The state's 1997 Kenai River Comprehensive Management Plan recommends much of the Kenai and Lower Trail lakes land for addition to the Kenai River Special Management Area, managed by Alaska State Parks.
DNR commissioner John Shively signed the Kenai Area Plan on Jan. 7, but Bagley wrote a letter asking him to reconsider. In writing the plan, he charged, the state did not give adequate weight to the borough's rights and did not make adequate land available to complete the remaining 44,000 acres of the borough's 156,000-acre entitlement.
On Thursday, Shively agreed to reconsider and look particularly at Bagley's written claim that, "The public is misled by DNR about the quality and quantity of land available for KPB land selection and municipal entitlement."
He asked borough planners to meet later this month with Marty Rutherford, his deputy commissioner.
Borough assembly president Bill Popp of Kenai said he is pleased to see the negotiations elevated to a higher level, since much of the land available for borough selection is on mountaintops, glaciers and wetlands.
"I don't think there's enough quality land available to fulfill our entitlement," Popp said.
Borough surveyor Max Best said the administration wants to be sure the state offers as much quality land as possible.
"Because once the plan is signed, it's done, and that's what is selectable," Best said. "We're talking about legacy lands for generations to come."
In his letter, Shively said 475,400 acres available for selection are indeed steep, remote or wet. However, 151,500 acres are classified for uses such as settlement, agriculture and dispersed recreation and should be suitable for borough selection.
Bruce Talbot, project manager for the Division of Mining, Land and Water, said the state split much of the land desired by the previous borough administration from pieces the state valued for habitat, future parks and other uses. It made good land -- much of it with access to roads, utilities and schools -- available to the borough in every community, he said.
Of 96,615 acres the borough requested before Bagley took office, the state made 90,195 acres available for selection. In December, Bagley requested an additional 12,973 acres. The state made 4,140 of those available, Talbot said.
However, 5,000 acres Bagley requested in the upper Ninilchik River drainage are not conveyable, because the Division of Forestry manages them for timber production, is conducting research in the area and has built roads there. Talbot said 1,777 acres the mayor requested by Trail Lakes are encumbered by U.S. Forest Service rights of way, and 1,732 acres are recommended for addition to KRSMA.
The state took extensive public comment in developing the Kenai River and Kenai Area plans. The borough assembly passed a resolution in November 1997 urging adoption of the Kenai River plan.
Since December, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission, the Moose Pass Advisory Planning Commission and the Kachemak Bay Advisory Planning Commission have endorsed the draft Kenai Area Plan.
"We feel this document fairly represents the wishes of the majority of the residents of the Kenai Peninsula," said a letter from Kachemak commission chair Steve Steelye and vice chair Milli Martin.
The Soldotna City Council passed a resolution Dec. 22 urging the Legislature to make the recommended KRSMA additions in order to protect fish, wildlife and recreation. On Jan. 20, the KRSMA advisory board wrote Shively supporting adoption of the Kenai Area Plan with no deletions from the recommended KRSMA additions.
On Jan. 30, the Cooper Landing Community Club wrote Shively opposing borough selection of the state land by Kenai Lake.
"We want this area kept for public access recreation, scenic value and habitat protection," club president Mona Painter wrote.
The club endorsed 1995 recommendations of the Cooper Landing Advisory Planning Commission, including one that state lands bordering Kenai Lake and its tributary streams be put under Alaska State Parks to protect habitat.
On Thursday, the Cooper Landing Advisory Planning Com-mission endorsed the Community Club's Jan. 30 letter. Soldotna assembly member Pete Sprague said he supports the KRSMA additions as a way to protect the Kenai River.
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