The North Fork of the Anchor River and four tributaries to Soldotna Creek are recent additions to the list of rivers that would be protected under a pending ordinance.
Present Kenai Peninsula Borough rules ban most building, clearing, excavation and commercial use within 50 feet of the Kenai River and restrict logging and fuel tank installation within the broader river flood plain.
Now, the borough assembly is discussing whether to extend those protections to more than a dozen other rivers, including the Swanson, Kasilof, Ninilchik and Anchor rivers, Deep and Stariski creeks and Kenai River tributaries such as Soldotna Creek and the Moose, Swanson, Trail and Funny rivers.
"The first-core tributaries and other rivers like the Kasilof, Ninilchik and Anchor are in line for future development. It's easier to put restrictions in place before development occurs than after," Homer assembly member Drew Scalzi said earlier this year.
The state regulates development within rivers, he said, but there are few restrictions on development of riverbanks.
"Habitat along the banks is just as important," Scalzi said. "Most (salmon) rearing occurs along the banks. If you destroy the vegetation, you destroy habitat."
During its meeting in Seward last week, the assembly added more streams to the list proposed for protection. The amended ordinance comes up for a final hearing during the assembly's May 16 meeting in Soldotna.
Scalzi said there is viable salmon habitat in the North Fork, and the borough planning department, the borough planning commission and the Anchor Point Advisory Planning Commission favor its protection. The assembly voted unanimously to add it to the proposed ordinance.
Nikiski assembly member Jack Brown requested the addition of Seven Egg Creek, a salmon stream in the Moose Point-Gray Cliff area. The assembly agreed unanimously.
Dissent arose, however, when Soldotna assembly member Pete Sprague proposed adding four unnamed tributaries to East Mackey, Sevena, Tree and Cisca lakes, which all flow into Soldotna Creek.
Sterling assembly member Grace Merkes asked whether they cross private property. On learning that they do, she said she opposed Sprague's amendment.
"If it passes, I'd ask for postponement if we're going to be adding all these extra creeks and tributaries," to the published proposal, she said.
The assembly voted 7-2 to add the four streams. The dissenting votes came from Merkes and Kasilof assembly member Paul Fischer.
Scalzi said there also have been requests to add Resurrection Creek and Sixmile River near Hope. However, he recommended against adding more streams the assembly knows little about. The assembly can add streams later, he said, but first, it should check with the borough planning department and the Kenai River Center to see how many more streams they can afford to oversee.
The assembly listened to Seward residents who asked it to delete the Resurrection River from the ordinance. Several said it changes course so often that defining the 50-foot habitat protection zone would be impossible.
"The Resurrection River from time to time eats riverbanks for lunch," said Seward resident Steven Schafer.
The assembly includes bank trampling, pollution and lack of tourism infrastructure among factors that damage riverbank habitat, he said. While those may affect the Kenai River, he said, they do not apply to the Resurrection, which is closed to salmon fishing.
"I haven't seen any tourists going up and down it," he said.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provide adequate protection for the Resurrection, he said.
However, Seward's Charlie Crangle said he wanted to hear more before the assembly deleted the Resurrection River from the ordinance.
At the intersection of Nash Road and the Seward Highway, a junkyard reaches within a few feet of a salmon stream, he said. He questioned the placement of fill on wetlands there and said the Corps of Engineers has done nothing about it.
"It would be nice to see some more local borough voice here to look at these projects and give people feedback and give the local community more of a voice in things," he said.
Seward assembly member Patrick O'Brien said he favored deleting the Resurrection River from the ordinance.
"I think that protection of the habitat is certainly a justified goal," he said. "I think that if at some point in the future we can develop this ordinance to the point that it will be applicable to this river that it would probably be appropriate to do that."
The way the ordinance is written now, though, it would be difficult to apply to the Resurrection River, he said.
The assembly voted unanimously to delete it from the list and voted unanimously to postpone a vote on the amended ordinance until May 16.
In other business, the assembly made several changes to the proposed local-option zoning ordinance. A final hearing is slated for May 16.
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