Kasilof dunes to get protection: Fencing project at river mouth modeled after similar effort in Kenai

Posted: Friday, March 26, 2010

While the Kasilof Regional Historical Association is better known for protecting pioneer sites, structures and other artifacts, they've recently taken up the charge to save the beach dunes at the mouth of the Kasilof River from further human-caused degradation.

Photo Courtesy Of The Alaska Department Of Fish And Game
Photo Courtesy Of The Alaska Department Of Fish And Game
In this aerial photograph taken in 2000, the degradation to the dune area on the southside of the mouth of the Kasilof River can be clearing seen. Even more trails have been cut through the area by motorized vehicles in recent years, but a post-and-chain fence will soon be erected to protect this fragile habitat.

"It's something that needed to be done," said association president Brent Johnson, "but as to the historical association's involvement, it was completely by accident."

Johnson said the idea came last November during a community meeting held with Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey and Assemblyman Paul Fischer to determine what top-priority projects Kasilof and other communities wanted the borough to include on its wish list for legislative funding.

Residents of Kasilof had been considering a funding request for a columbarium, but this issue did not have community consensus. Not wanting to lose out on a slice of the project-funding pie, Johnson said talk turned to getting the Legislature's help in erecting a post-and-chain fence around the beach dunes and adjacent private property.

"It would be modeled after the barrier (the city of) Kenai installed around the beach dunes on the north and south shores of the mouth of the Kenai River," Johnson said.

Based on what Kenai spent to install its fence -- comprised of treated wood posts sunk into the ground with chain strung through holes drilled into the posts -- the Kasilof project is estimated to cost about $65,000. Johnson said last month he heard from house speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, and was informed that $60,000 had been approved for the project.

"But having the money in the budget doesn't mean its approved yet," Johnson said.

The state Department of Natural Resources Division of Mining, Land and Water has primary authority over this area of land, so the project still has to go through a land-use permitting process, including a public comment period, as well as a coastal zone review.

As part of filling out these permits, Johnson said more surveying and other considerations must be done to ensure accuracy of the proposed project.

"We've got a parts list from Kenai, but we have to compare the lengths of the two areas to see if ours is longer, so we know if $60,000 is enough," Johnson said. "I'd also like to compare prices of treated wood posts, since they can be expensive, or possibly look into cement posts to see if they are cheaper."

Johnson said initially he hoped the entire dune area would be encircled. But after further community discussion and crunching of costs, the tentative area to be fenced will be the dunes on the upland side of the vehicle-made dirt path that many people use to access the south side of the river mouth during dipnet season.

In following the permit process, Johnson said the fence would likely not be up in time to prevent dune degradation during this year's salmon season.

"I'd love to have it up as soon as the ice is gone," he said, "but realistically, it's best to wait and get all the permits done correctly, so it'll likely be August before any construction work begins."

Simultaneous to the association's efforts, two students from Nikiski High School -- Melinda Hampton and Dylan Holloway -- were also focusing on the Kasilof River dunes and adopted a plan to install fencing for their Caring for the Kenai project.

Under the tutelage of science instructor Phil Morin, they contacted the city of Kenai to ask about the temporary orange plastic fencing and fence posts the city had used to keep people off the Kenai dunes before the post-and-chain fence was installed.

"The city agreed to offer up the fencing for the students' project," Morin said.

The students hope to install the fencing this spring, before dipnetting season. However, their project needs state approval before they can begin, which hasn't been an easy process.

"The girls have negotiated the bureaucracy for the past three months, and have exchanged 150 e-mails between all the players," Morin said.

The resolution they got was that the fencing will be able to be used, but it must be erected by a bonded and licensed entity. As such, like the permanent fencing, construction will likely not take place until late summer, and may end up being used to supplement the post-and-chain fence.

"Since it'll cost more than $60,000," Morin said, "if (the association) can't get the complete budget, the temporary fencing could be used until the funds come through for the full package."

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.

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