Cooper Landing controversy gets state eye

Game board urges caution

Posted: Wednesday, March 29, 2000

The Alaska Board of Game is the latest party to take sides in the proposed sale of public land in Cooper Landing.

The dispute between pro-development interests and residents who value the land for recreation and wildlife viewing heated up Friday with a letter from Game Board chair Lori Quakenbush to Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley.

"Since 1953, the Cooper Land-ing closed area (land closed to sheep and goat hunting) has provided unsurpassed opportunities for public enjoyment of Dall sheep and mountain goats in their natural environment," Quakenbush wrote, adding that the only public area available for viewing and photographing those sheep and goats lies on borough land at the base of the Broadview Cliffs.

"The Board of Game supports the Copper (sic) Landing Advisory Committee in requesting that the borough protect wildlife and public use values on these critical lands," her letter continued.

However, her letter will have no effect on the borough assembly's plans to sell 10 acres near the base of the cliffs as part of its Sunrise View Subdivision, said assembly president Bill Popp of Kenai. The 10 acres, known as Tract A, lie along the Sterling Highway, overlooking Kenai Lake near the mouth of Quartz Creek.

"Tract A is some of the most buildable land in the area," Popp said. "In my opinion, it's still an appropriate piece to include in that sale."

Management of borough lands in Cooper Landing has long been the source of controversy. After the assembly approved the community's plan for borough lands in 1996, many residents favored developing the proposed Russian Gap Subdivision in the Sunrise area as a first step.

In 1997, though, Seward's Dale Lindsey asked the assembly to reclassify 20 acres just west of Quartz Creek for residential development. The community's plan designated that land for preservation, since many residents value it for sheep viewing, wildlife habitat and recreation. The plan designated other land nearby for development of the residential subdivision now called Sunrise View.

Amid considerable controversy, the assembly reclassified the 10 acres now known as Tract A from preservation to residential. It also approved a plat for Sunrise View Subdivision and the auction of Tract A and several Sunrise lots.

The Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation, the Cooper Landing Fish and Game Advisory Committee, the Cooper Landing Advisory Planning Commission and the Friends of Cooper Landing, a group formed to develop the community plan for borough lands, have opposed the sale of Tract A.

Friends of Cooper Landing appealed the subdivision plat. Acting as Board of Adjustment, the assembly rejected the appeal last month. However, Friends president Bob Baldwin said he expects to advance the appeal to Alaska Superior Court before the April 15 deadline.

Bagley said the Board of Game's letter will not change anything.

"This isn't my decision anyway," he said. "It's been before the Board of Adjustment and the assembly. It's back in FOCL's court what they're going to do."

Popp said the assembly reclassified only 10 acres, despite Lindsey's request to reclassify 20. The borough made several concessions in response to Friends' appeal. It pulled Tract A back from wetlands at the foot of the cliffs, Popp said.

"The action taken with Tract A and what's happened with the borough going forward and whatever appeals Bob Baldwin decides to make -- it really doesn't affect that," he said.

Quakenbush said the Board of Game wrote Bagley in response to a letter from the Cooper Landing Fish and Game Advisory Committee. The committee's letter asked the board to support preserving land at the base of the cliffs as a wildlife study and conservation area. It also supported construction nearby of a wildlife visitor center and research facility and restoration of a former U.S. Forest Service sheep and goat interpretive site south of the highway.

"We were happy to offer our support," Quakenbush said. "My understanding is that it's the only place in the area where you can view sheep and goats from the road."

She said she hoped there would be some way to have development and still provide opportunities for the public to watch the sheep. The advisory committee might want to ask Gov. Tony Knowles for help, she said, since Knowles has made it his goal to foster opportunities for wildlife viewing.

Both Friends and the Cooper Landing Fish and Game Advisory Committee have written letters asking Knowles to intervene.

"How much longer the community can hold off residential development ... is unknown at this point, but the end appears in sight," advisory committee chairman Bill Stockwell wrote the governor. "Once development starts, the point of no return will have passed, and the public's ability to enjoy the finest roadside wildlife viewing opportunity in Alaska will be forever impaired and lost."

Knowles has not yet replied, Stockwell said Tuesday.

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