Discussions about Kenai River subsistence priorities and the river’s waterbody recovery plan dominated much of the Kenai River Special Management Area (KRSMA) Advisory Board’s monthly meeting at the Kenai River Center on Thursday evening.
Subsistence has been a controversial topic at many fisheries-related meetings this month since the Southcentral Alaska Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Council is meeting this week in Anchorage to make recommendations on proposals to change federal subsistence fishing regulations on the Kenai Peninsula for the 2007-08 regulatory year.
KRSMA’s March meeting opened with public comments. Ricky Gease, executive director for the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, asked the KRSMA board to endorse the Office of Subsistence Management’s Kenai Peninsula fishery proposal draft staff analysis.
“I think how they put together this analysis is good. It’s a good approach,” he said.
Gease particularly emphasized the Office of Subsistence Management’s assessment that “widespread” in-river gillnet use would be inconsistent with existing principles of fish conservation.
Affected by this idea, the KRSMA board voted on whether they should endorse the analysis of proposals strategy section of the draft, which ended with eight members in favor of the endorsement, one member (Curt Shuey) against the idea, and one (Brenda Trefon ) abstaining until she fully understood both sides of the issue.
On the same subject, KRSMA also voted on whether they should endorse House Joint Resolution 4, sponsored by Rep. Kurt Olsen, R-Soldotna. This measure calls for the Federal Subsistence Board to reconsider its decision to grant Ninilchik residents a subsistence priority in the Kenai river.
Trefon was adamantly opposed to KRSMA voting on this resolution, stating it was a political issue and not one KRSMA should become entangled in.
Trefon also took issue with the resolution’s language, which described the Federal Subsistence Board’s decision relating to customary and traditional subsistence use determinations as being based on “anecdotal evidence,” rather than facts.
Trefon said knowledge and stories passed down by Native elders is not anecdotal evidence, and she worried that endorsing this resolution could send a mixed message as to where KRSMA stands on these types of issues.
Despite her protest, KRSMA voted six in favor and four opposed to endorse the resolution. Trefon, Shuey, Dick Hahn and James Czarneski cast the votes against it.
As with the subsistence discussion, the water body recovery plan also was a tumultuous issue. Tim Stevens unveiled the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Kenai River Waterbody Recover Plan Process Chart draft.
In the draft it was suggested that a three-part workgroup made up of leaders, stakeholders and technical advisors would perform the lion’s share of work to get the Kenai River moved from a Category 5 listing, which means impaired, to a Category 4b listing, which means impaired but with a plan in place to fix it, and eventually to a no longer impaired listing.
Under the draft, the group’s leadership would be made of up of representatives from Department of Environmental Conservation, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. KRSMA would be part of the stakeholders group, along with roughly 14 other organizations and individuals.
KRSMA not being part of the leadership did not sit well with many of its members.
“We want more than a token seat at the table,” Ted Wellman said.
Dick Hahn said he thought the draft was “incredibly bureaucratic” and was concerned that meaningful input could not come from having so many organizations and individuals involved that based on their attendance at KRSMA meetings don’t have a “passionate interest in the river.”
After lengthy discussion, Stevens acknowledged a new draft would be created with KRSMA playing a more prominent roll in the recovery plan process, and he asked that any other recommendations to change the draft be sent in writing.
In other business, Pam Russell, with the Kenai River Center, gave an update on the application process for repair work on riverbank structures damaged by Kenai River ice and flooding in January and February.
“We’re busy and going to stay busy. I have 25 applications on my desk right now,” she said, “(but) there is a declaration that was signed by the governor so hopefully we’ll see some relief soon.”
Sinclair added that the full extant of the flood damage is not yet known.
“It will continue to reveal itself,” he said.
Sinclair also said some of structures docks and stairways that were damaged by the flood were structures that were required to removable. But since they were obviously not, he suggested creating an identification system to mark these structures in the future, so they could be returned if found during the clean-up process.
Dick Hahn requested KRSMA consider further studies relating to the two-stroke versus four-stoke motors debate, to determine the contributions of pollutants from each one. Hahn also suggested that a study be devised that samples river sediments to determine pollutant levels at the river bottom.
KRSMA also held officer elections during the meeting. Ken Lancaster was voted to become the new president, while Ted Wellman became the new vice president. Dick Hahn resigned from KRSMA, effectively immediately.
KRSMA’s next meeting is at at 5:30 p.m. April 12 at the Kenai River Center.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@ peninsulaclarion.com.
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