Trees are becoming the bane of the Kenai City Council.
For the second time in as many months, cut trees were the main topic of conversation when the council met Wednesday night. This time it was residents who were upset over the latest tree controversy, which came from a fire abatement plan in the Inlet Woods subdivision, which is off Redoubt Avenue.
Inlet Woods resident Chris Copple spoke for several residents of the subdivision when he said he was disappointed with city officials over the state of his neighborhood.
"I now live in the ugly remains of a logging effort that rivals that of the Ninilchik forestry project or the Caribou Hills forestry project," Copple said. "I am saddened that my very own elected officials have allowed this to take place."
The city owns the vast majority of lots in Inlet Woods, and, as part of Project Impact's FireWise Program, had contracted with Arctech Services Inc. to remove trees at no cost to reduce the fuel available to forest fires.
Copple played for the council a video tape, which showed dead trees left standing and clutter all about the subdivision. He became emotional as he described the images on the screen.
"The road sits low, so you have to get out and walk around to see what took place in there," he said. "At one time this was a premiere subdivision, and now it's logged like Ninilchik."
Copple said Inlet Woods residents were lied to about what was to be cut when a fire department representative said only beetle-infested trees 8 inches or larger would be removed.
"When the contractor showed up, all the trees over 8 inches were cut," he said.
Copple's neighbor, Bob Robertson, also expressed his displeasure to the council.
"I am very very disappointed about how this was handled," Robertson said. "I'm most angry about being lied to about how this was going to be handled."
Kenai Fire Chief Jason Elson defended the program and brought in beetle and fire experts to address the council.
Mike Fastabend, the spruce bark beetle coordinator for the Kenai Peninsula Borough, said he toured the Inlet Woods subdivision.
"I saw 20 percent (of the cut trees) had been attacked and killed, and 25 percent showed evidence of last year's attack," Fastabend said.
The other 55 percent of cut trees showed no evidence of beetle infestation, but Fastabend said all but a few of them were susceptible.
"I would expect in the next three or four years for them to reach the same mortality. Anything over 10 inches is at risk," he said. "It's always emotional and sad when you have to kill trees to save trees."
Fastabend said the subdivision has a lot of small, young spruce and has "tremendous regeneration potential."
Copple wasn't satisfied, though.
"How long does it take for a 5-inch (tall) tree to get even 20 feet tall? Thirty years? Forty?"
"It does take time," Fastabend said. "You can't replace mature trees."
City Manager Rick Ross said the subdivision was targeted by Elson because of the fire danger there.
"The fire chief came to me and said the fire load in Inlet Woods was such that he could not save your homes if there were a fire. He said he could not save your subdivision," Ross said.
"I take full responsibility," Elson said. "I'll go on record to say this city and fire department does not have the resources to battle a fire in Inlet Woods."
The subdivision is bounded by heavily wooded land that is susceptible to wildfire.
Elson then had Wade Wahrenbrock of the Alaska Division of Forestry give a presentation of what could happen to forests allowed to remain standing during beetle infestation.
Wahrenbrock showed slides of dead and dying beetle-killed trees along Homer's East End Road and of the forest around Ninilchik.
"If no action is taken, the trees (in Inlet Woods) will look like this," he said. "On East End Road, 95 percent of trees 6 inches and larger are red and dead."
Wahrenbrock was referring to the characteristic reddish tint spruce needles take on once the tree is killed by beetles.
"If I lived in that subdivision, if that were my property, I would've taken action," Wahrenbrock said. "With my experience in Homer, where there's 100 percent mortality, you people got off easy."
Copple said later it would have been better if the city had made such a presentation before the trees were cut down.
"The fire department says this FireWise information has been around for some time, but I've never seen it," he said.
Copple said he understood the need to reduce the fire hazard, and conceded that the city can do anything it wants to its own land.
"My concern right now is the property. It's a mess," he said.
There was some confusion over what the contractor was required to clean up after logging an area. Debris from cutting the trees was left on the ground and many dead trees were left standing in the logged lots, Copple said.
Mayor John Williams said that whatever is left behind, the city will take care of.
"The city of Kenai will do everything to make sure the area will be cleaned up," Williams said. "We have to clean it up, we will clean it up, and I assure the citizens of Kenai that that will happen."
Ross suggested the possibility that summer employees of the city could do some of the cleanup, while Elson said he could bring firefighters to help.
After the debate Copple seemed reassured.
"I'm pleased they're going to look at other options," he said. "I trust my mayor, and if John says he'll do it, then I take him at his word."
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