A bill passed during the last few hours of the 23rd Legislature adds 550 acres of critical habitat lands along the lower Kenai River to the Kenai River Special Management Area.
Senate Bill 190, sponsored by Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, also amends state law governing the makeup of the KRSMA board.
If signed by Gov. Frank Murkowski, employees, elected officials or other representatives of federal or state governments could hold only ex-officio status on the KRSMA advisory board. They no longer would be permitted to vote on issues coming before the board.
The bill does permit such government-connected persons to become voting members, however, if they are appointed as representatives of a user group, resident property owners, a municipality adjacent to the Kenai River or another interest group.
Further, the bill provides that a majority of the voting members of the advisory board shall be residents of the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
"The communities around the Kenai River system depend on the millions of dollars in direct spending from non-locals visiting the area," Wagoner said in a press release earlier this week.
"We also have a direct monetary benefit from commercial fishing which depends on the river and I want to do what I can to protect this valuable re-source."
As originally proposed, the bill would have simply barred government employees and representatives from ever becoming voting members. However, Wagoner proposed amending the measure, which the Alaska House did, so that such employees could become voting public members of the KRSMA board under the circumstances listed above.
"I think public members should be making the decisions about this important public resource and I'm pleased the bill was approved," Wagoner said.
Currently, representatives of state and federal agencies and three municipalities fill eight of the board's 17 seats.
Under Wagoner's bill, representatives appointed from the cities of Kenai and Soldotna and the Kenai Peninsula Borough could retain their voting rights. Members representing the Alaska departments of Natural Resources, Environmental Conservation, and Fish and Game, along with those from the U.S. Forest Service and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge would not have a vote unless appointed to serve on behalf of the groups listed above.
Earlier this year, Wagoner said he believed control of the advisory board needed to be with public members, not bureaucrats "who may have an entirely different agenda than Joe Q. Public."
He said he wanted the KRSMA board to be "a real citizens' advisory group" and not a bureaucratic, multi-agency working group.
The 550 acres of state-owned land to be attached to the management area are made up of multiple parcels along the river downstream from Sterling. Five hundred acres were purchased with Exxon Valdez oil spill funds.
Under SB 190, the mineral estate in the state-owned territory would be open to oil and gas leasing, but would be closed to mineral entry, that is, mining enterprises such as gravel pits.
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