Several Kenai River tributaries and thousands of acres by Kenai, Cooper and Trail lakes would become part of Alaska State Parks under a bill introduced by Rep. Ken Lancaster, R-Soldotna.
House Bill 165 would add nearly 8,000 acres to State Parks' Kenai River Special Management Area. It also would add the waters of Trail Lakes, the Trail River and state-owned portions of Quartz, Cooper, Bean, Shackleford, Daves, Crescent and Dry creeks to the park. The additions are recommended in the state's 1997 Kenai River Comprehensive Plan and its 2000 Kenai Area Plan for state lands in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, both of which were developed with extensive public input.
"The residents of Cooper Landing and Moose Pass are most affected, and they really want this," Lancaster said. "It's time to move forward."
The park bill and House Bill 93, Lancaster's proposal for a $10 permit to dipnet fish on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, are slated for a hearing Monday at 1 p.m. before the House Resources Committee. Legislative aides said they expect that to be available by teleconference at the Kenai Legislative Information Office.
The proposed additions include roughly 1,030 acres along Snug Harbor Road on the south shore of Kenai Lake, 730 acres on the north shore of Kenai Lake and 1,175 acres between Kenai and Cooper lakes. They include several hundred acres in parcels along the upper Kenai River, 480 acres by Daves and Quartz creeks, 200 acres by Juneau and Bean creeks, close to 1,000 acres around Upper Trail Lake and 200 acres along the Trail River.
They also include other parcels, including Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council purchases, along the middle and lower Kenai River.
"It represents an important part of the fish and wildlife habitat in the upper Kenai River watershed," said Chris Degernes, Kenai area superintendent for Alaska State Parks. "It's riparian habitat for salmon spawning and rearing. It's protection for water quality. It's providing for recreational needs and providing for commercial users that depend on the Kenai River for recreation, so it's important to the economy."
The proposed additions finish work begun with the 1984 bill that created the Kenai River Special Management Area, she said. Many of the parcels in Lancaster's bill were identified for park inclusion in 1984 but could not be added then because the state had not yet completed its land selections from Chugach National Forest.
The 1997 Kenai River plan makes the proposed additions unavailable for uses that conflict with park purposes, she said.
"The most important thing is to complete the addition while the people who supported it in the Kenai River Comprehensive Plan and the Kenai Area Plan still remember why it's important," she said. "In 20 years, there may be conflicts. There have been threats by people interested in leasing the lands or logging. The designation as future KRSMA lands has allowed us to say no to commercial leasing or logging."
Last year, the Kenai Peninsula Borough appealed the Kenai Area Plan in Alaska Superior Court. Among the complaints, Mayor Dale Bagley said the borough should be allowed to select land by Kenai and Trail lakes, including some proposed park additions, to complete its land entitlement from the state. The state and the borough eventually reached an agreement that ended the appeal but left the proposed park additions beyond the borough's reach.
The Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board passed a resolution March 15 supporting Lancaster's bill. Ted Wellman, advisory board chair, said HB 165 has no companion bill in the Senate. He said he had arranged to discuss the proposed additions with Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, in Juneau, but Torgerson canceled the appointment.
Reached Friday, Torgerson said he worries about putting so much land in State Parks control. A big addition would increase Parks' operating costs, he said.
"The other part of it is, what are they going to manage? They can't manage everything for habitat," he said. "This is a lot bigger chunk than they've had before. They're taking a Kenai River watershed approach."
The park additions are a big issue for the people who live in Moose Pass and Cooper Landing, he said.
"Some don't mind locking it up. Some want to see planning for multiple use," he said.
Torgerson said he has not read Lancaster's bill and wants to know more about what Parks plans for the land before he supports the additions.
Lancaster said he has received more than 20 comments favoring the additions and none in opposition. The bill's only referral so far has been to the House Resources Committee. If it passes there, it could reach the House floor April 1 or 2, he said. If it passes the House, it will move to the Senate.
Parks has no plans for physical improvements to the proposed additions, he said, and there is no fiscal note attached to the bill.
"So I don't see any immediate increase to the budget," he said. "I feel this is fairly innocuous. I just can't imagine this not going through."
The borough's appeal has been resolved, he said.
"We had a (public) process of over two years," he said. "We need to respond to that. This needs to be finalized. It shouldn't be shelved like so many other things."
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