An 11th-hour appeal has revived the chances of the Kenai Peninsula Borough getting its hands on some of the state's most valuable holdings.
Borough Mayor Dale Bagley has his eye on lands fronting Kenai and Trail lakes that he would like made available for borough selection. But they are beyond the borough's reach, because the new management plan for state-owned land in the borough recommends them for addition to the Kenai River Special Management Area. There, Alaska State Parks would manage them for recreation and for wildlife and fisheries habitat
So on Friday, Bagley appealed the state's Kenai Area Plan to Alaska Superior Court.
Friday was the deadline to appeal, he said, and there was no time to consult the borough assembly. He just heard Monday from an outside attorney hired to assess the chances for a successful appeal. Bagley said he will give the assembly a chance to support the appeal during its Tuesday meeting in Soldotna.
"If they don't, then we'll withdraw the appeal," he said.
John Shively, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, said he is sorry that Bagley has chosen to sue.
"But I'm relatively confident that we'll prevail," he said. "We realize we haven't given him all the lands he wanted to select from. Unfortunately, there are a lot of competing uses for those lands. After several reviews and after granting the mayor some of what he wants, we think the plan allows for a lot of those competing uses."
The Kenai Area Plan 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. The state spent nearly a decade writing the plan, held numerous public hearings and took numerous written comments.
Bagley said the land available for borough selection is mostly glaciers, mountaintops and wetlands.
"We can show you many thousands of acres of swamps," he said. "Someone at DNR sat down and drew a line following the swamps and said, 'Let's give that to the borough.'"
He discounted the public process the state used to develop the plan.
"Most people are going to work and going home, and they don't know about these things," he said. "But the environmental community does show up and try to get things locked up."
Environmentalists do not represent the views of the majority of peninsula residents, he said.
Shively said hearings he has attended on a variety of issues have drawn a broad spectrum of participants, and the public has certainly had plenty of opportunities to comment on the Kenai Area Plan. He said Bagley's constituents do not always agree with his views.
"If you go to Cooper Landing and see what he wants and what they want, it's significantly different," he said.
Suzanne Fisler, Alaska State Parks' representative at the Kenai River Center, said Parks wants to keep the narrow strip of land between Snug Harbor Road and Kenai Lake as a buffer to protect fish and wildlife habitat and recreational access. However, there is strong sentiment in Cooper Landing to keep the land between Kenai and Cooper lakes open for public recreation.
"We ended up with a larger piece of land than we had considered asking for because the community wanted to have that land for future recreational use," she said. "This isn't all DNR- and environmentalist-driven. If these are the types of people that live in these communities and these are their values, the borough has to recognize those values."
The publicly owned lakeshore provides valuable recreational opportunities and habitat for all Alaskans, she said.
"That's not going to be the value it holds when it's sold to a private party for $150,000," she said. "Are we looking at real estate value or at maintaining habitat and an ecosystem important for fisheries values, wildlife values and human use?"
Earlier this year, Shively wrote that 475,400 acres of the land available for borough 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.
In response to Bagley's complaints, Shively added more than 4,500 acres to the land available for borough selection. However, Bruce Talbot, project manager for the Division of Mining, Land and Water, said 5,000 acres Bagley requested in the upper Ninilchik River drainage were not conveyable because the Division of Forestry manages them for timber production and research.
Some 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 Manage-ment Plan for addition to the park system.
Shively said the state likely would retain the Kenai and Trail lakes land even if the Kenai River plan had not recommended it for addition to the park.
"It has some intrinsic public values," he said. "The Kenai River area is pretty complex. Our responsibility is to allow not only for community growth, but to provide the recreational opportunities the people expect and to protect the natural resources that a lot of the rest of the economy depends on."
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