Assembly tackles salmon streams

Ordinances would set standards for crossings, fund culvert rebuilding projects

Posted: Friday, February 22, 2008

Protecting salmon streams is critical to maintaining healthy fisheries, experts say, and an ordinance now before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly would impose rules on developers who must construct bridges over those streams.

Ordinance 2008-03, introduced by Borough Mayor John Williams in January, got a public hearing at Tuesday's assembly meeting. Another hearing has been scheduled for April 1.

The measure would require special permit and set conditions for the design and construction of bridges crossing anadromous streams and for rights of way leading to those streams. It would apply to any development anywhere in the borough.

During public testimony, Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, said the ordinance's requirement that a crossing and culvert survive a 100-year flood event was a good standard. He also said he had been working directly with developers to reach consensus on specific construction details proposed in the ordinance.

"There is a lot of common agreement on what is in this ordinance, and there are things worth exploring," he said.

Over the last three construction seasons, the watershed forum has spent some $1.3 million rebuilding about a dozen of the worst culverts in the borough. There are as many as 80 culverts known to need attention, and more still to be surveyed. Preventing still more inadequate culverts from being built is vital, he has said.

Terry Cowart, of Kasilof, said he thought certain aspects of the process of approving permits for construction within 100 feet of a stream bank or shore, specifically having to do with analyses of whether viable alternatives accesses existed, should be conducted at the Planning Commission level. Meanwhile, he said, the Road Service Area Board should handle decisions about actual design and constructability of a project.

"We should amend the first section to say that if the Planning Commission has already addressed concerns and made a determination, then the Road Service Area Board would not have to deal with the access portion," he said.

The assembly moved to postpone further action on the ordinance until after another public hearing April 1. That will allow time for a worksession and perhaps another look by the RSA board and commission.

Mayor Williams said he had no problem with the delay, but did caution the assembly.

"Let's not let this opportunity go by to take care of a good ordinance," he said. "Even if you have to do a minor change or two, this is not one we want to let slip away."

While the assembly will be wrestling with code changes to prevent poor stream crossings from being constructed in the future, another ordinance, introduced Tuesday and set for hearing April 1, would appropriate $100,000 from the general fund to the watershed forum for further culvert restoration projects.

That money would come from state fish tax revenues returned annually to the borough. The borough gets about $647,000 a year.

According to Bonnie Golden, borough grants manager, the watershed forum, in partnership with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, has been assessing culverts across the borough and has identified more than 350 roads crossing salmon-bearing streams.

Half have been evaluated and more than 70 percent are problematic for fish migration.

"This translates into several hundred miles of habitat being off limits to fish on the Kenai Peninsula," she said.

Hal Spence can be reached at

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