Watershed forum, Kenai team up: City to be pass-through recipient for non-profit organization

Posted: Friday, March 04, 2011

Kenai's City Council agreed that the city will become a pass-through grant recipient for the Kenai Watershed Forum at its meeting Wednesday evening.

In order to be a pass-through agency, the city is required to receive the money and pass it along to the non-profit organization. The city also must e-mail quarterly reports to the state, although the non-profit will write them.

Michelle Martin made a presentation about the organization's work on studying and eliminating Reed Canary Grass on the central Kenai Peninsula. The invasive species blocks channels that normally serve as salmon habitat and alters the landscape for fish, she said. In the Lower 48, it has become a problem species. KWF wants to help prevent the same thing from happening on the Peninsula.

That organization has done field work for this project since 2008. They're mapping the grass and also trying to eliminate it where possible, Martin said.

"It's not an easy thing to get rid of," she said.

In the past, the group's work has been funded by the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund. This year, Alaska's Department of Fish and Game is requiring that the money channeled through that fund, which is just less than $135,000, go to government entities, not non-profit agencies.

"They're asking us to partner with a government agency," Martin said.

City Manager Rick Koch said he was happy to do the work for the partnership.

"Yes, administration is supportive," he said.

Koch said that the city wouldn't ask for an administrative fee, because not very much work will be required.

The council approved whole-heartedly.

Council member Joe Moore said he thought anything the city could do to help salmon thrive was a good idea.

Council member Brian Gabriel agreed.

"I endorse any project that will enhance our salmon," he said.

The grant funds the organization's work for the next three years. KWF will remove some of the grass and apply for permission from the Department of Environmental Conservation to get more aggressive with its removal efforts.

When the patches are small -- less than a meter in diameter -- Martin said they can usually be dug out. Larger patches require more effort to remove.

"There are places on the Peninsula that really nothing can be done," Martin said. That includes some patches in Nikiski, and along the North Fork of the Anchor River, she said.

Some of the stubborn patches might be treatable with herbicides, Martin said, and the grant provides funding for KWF to apply for permission to use chemicals.

"Under this funding, we will not be applying herbicide," she said. They will just be starting the dialogue about it.

Martin said herbicides can be controversial, but the non-profit believes they might be the best option in some situations.

"It is something we feel like we have to add to our toolbox," she said.

The grant also provides funding for the watershed forum to track the grass.

"All of those measures need to be followed by lots of monitoring," Martin said.

The Watershed Forum wasn't the only organization looking for support at Wednesday's meeting.

Skyview's Mock Trial team, which was selected to represent that state of Alaska at the national competition in May, asked the council for their backing, financial or otherwise. After a 4-3 vote, the council decided not to give the team money at this meeting. Council members Mike Boyle, Ryan Marquis and Bob Molloy voted in favor of providing the team with $500. Mayor Pat Porter voted against it so that the public could weigh in on the expenditure at the next meeting, and council members Gabriel, Moore and Terry Bookey, also voted no. Student representative Hannah Coffman also voted against it. The council will consider a discussion/action item on whether or not to provide funding to the Skyview team at their next meeting, scheduled for March 16.

The City of Kenai also unanimously approved a conditional use permit for Buccaneer Energy to begin exploratory drilling. The city's planning and zoning commission gave its seal of approval at an earlier meeting.

Koch said that the permit was used rather than a lease, and Buccaneer will pay for the use of some airport property for one year. If their exploratory drilling is successful, the city will negotiate a long-term lease with the company, he said.

According to Koch, the drilling is expected to begin in late March.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@peninsulaclarion.com.

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