1,732 acres remain off limits to borough land selection

DNR rejects Bagley appeal

Posted: Sunday, March 12, 2000

The Kenai Peninsula Borough will have to go to court if it still wants 1,732 acres the state recommends for addition to the Kenai River Special Management Area.

John Shively, commissioner of the state Department of Natural Resources, replied Wednesday to Mayor Dale Bag-ley's request that he reconsider his approval of the state's new Kenai Area Plan. Shively declined to make the KRSMA additions, mainly by Kenai and Trail lakes, available for borough selection.

The Kenai Area Plan, which Shiv-ely signed Jan. 7, sets land-use classifications for more than 5.3 million acres of state land -- dry, tidal and submerged -- within the borough. It determines which parcels the borough can select to complete the remaining 44,000 acres of its land entitlement from the state.

Shively's Wednesday letter finalizes the plan, said Bruce Talbot, project manager for the department's Division of Mining, Land and Water. The borough's only recourse now is in Alaska Superior Court, where it has 30 days to file an appeal.

"I think we made not much progress," Robert Bright, borough planning director, said Friday after a preliminary look at the letter. "But we just have to go through it tract by tract, look at the big picture, see where we are, and go from there."

Bright said he planned to meet with Bagley this weekend to pick through Shively's letter.

The state has been working on the Kenai Area Plan for close to a decade. The public comment period on its final draft ended Dec. 17. However, Bagley, who was elected in October, sent Talbot a letter Dec. 20 saying the state had not made enough quality land available for borough selection.

In his reply, Shively wrote that 475,400 acres av-ailable 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.

There is plenty of good land available along the road system, Talbot said.

By the state's tally, Bagley asked DNR to make another 12,973 acres available to the borough. The state made 4,140 of those available, Talbot said. However, 5,000 acres Bagley requested in the upper Ninilchik River drainage were 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 in the 1997 Kenai River Comprehensive Management Plan for addition to KRSMA and management by Alaska State Parks.

In his letter last week, Shively cited a recommendation from Bob Loeffler, director of the Division of Mining, Land and Water, to keep the proposed KRSMA additions.

Work on the Kenai Area Plan began almost 10 years ago, Loeffler wrote, and work on the Kenai River plan began in 1996. He said he was unaware of any borough interest in the proposed KRSMA additions until Bagley's Dec. 20 letter. Making them available to the borough now would be a significant change, he wrote, and there would be little opportunity for public comment.

"In addition, the department is not willing to revise the Kenai River Comprehen-sive Management Plan so soon after its adoption," he wrote. "A KRCMP revision requires input from the KRSMA Advisory Board."

The board recently supported the proposed KRSMA additions, he wrote, and it would be unlikely now to support their conveyance to the borough.

Shively's letter last week did add more than 450 acres to the land available for borough selection, including 320 by Bear Lake near Seward. However, the state plans to keep the east side of Bear Lake, which includes a 1,000-foot easement for the Iditarod National Historic Trail, he wrote. In 1998, the Iditarod Trailblazers and the U.S. Forest Service built a foot path along the easement.

Bagley had asked for roughly 200 acres at Mile 9 Coho Loop. The plan recommended that for transfer to Alaska State Parks to support recreation on nearby beaches.

"We can't put a campground, toilets or water on the beach because of the storm surge," Talbot said. "This is the closest developable, upland, state-owned parcel."

Even so, Shively agreed to split it in half. He made roughly 100 acres available to the borough, and kept 100 acres for Parks.

Bagley had asked for 69 acres adjoining Kachemak Bay State Park land off East End Road near Homer. The plan recommended the 69 acres for addition to the park. However, Shively agreed to make 38 acres available to the borough. The state will keep 31 acres as a site for park restrooms, trailheads and parking.

"Now, it's up to the borough to tell us what lands they actually want," Talbot said. "After DNR receives the borough's revised selections, relinquishments and priorities, a decision to convey a large portion of their selections could be completed in a couple of years. Some parcels with few encumbrances could be conveyed sooner."

Decisions could be much farther away on borough selections encumbered by federal mining claims or not yet conveyed from federal ownership to the state.

Once the state issues a decision to convey, the borough must survey the land before conveyance takes place.

"I can't speak for how quickly the borough will allocate money to survey," Talbot said.

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