Dipnet deal: Groups sign pact to stop watershed degradation

Posted: Monday, March 15, 2010

The Kenai Watershed Forum achieved a near impossible feat for this area late last month. It got a group of fishermen to agree.

The Soldotna-based non-profit is hoping to garner the attention of 18 state policy makers, agency leaders and the governor, urging them to curtail the degradation at the mouth of the Kasilof and Kenai rivers caused by overuse during the personal-use fishery.

Signing off on the call to action are 16 different groups, some of whom are better known for not getting along.

Cook Inletkeeper, the Kenai Area Fisherman's Coalition, the Kenai Peninsula Fisherman's Association, Kenai River Professional Guides Association, Kenai River Sportfishing Association, South Central Alaska Dipnetters Association and United Cook Inlet Drifters Association are among a few of the groups that typically butt heads but found reason to put their differences aside in this case.

Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Watershed Forum, said that for the legislators, commissioners and the governor, seeing an opposing interests all calling for action in unison lends the letter some weight.

"When you have what are very often adversarial stakeholders signing off on the same piece of paper it really gets people's attention," Ruffner said. "And it should."

The letter calls on the state to address water quality concerns, including management of human waste, trash and fish carcasses. Additionally, the letter asks for better protection of the coastal dunes.

Ruffner said the mouth of the Kasilof is of particular concern as it has had little oversight.

"What's happening now is funding for bathrooms and trash is a year to year, hand-to-mouth, rather than some regularly recurring part of the operating budget," Ruffner said. "We know people will show up every year but we don't know that there'll be money to help take care of these people."

Ruffner said that while the different organizations that signed off on the letter might have differing views on how to solve the problems at the beaches, he didn't have an issue getting them to agree on demanding action.

"This issue was pretty ripe, to be honest," he said.

Ruffner said he hasn't received any solid commitments from any lawmakers as of yet, but that members of the central Peninsula delegation have "spoken favorably of getting help."

He added that legislators from other parts of the state who received a copy of the letter had contacted him about the problem and were also showing interest.

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com.



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