The Kenai Peninsula Borough has obtained $340,000 in federal funding to fund research and education supporting the mission of the Kenai River Center.
Now, the river center staff is asking the public how the money should be spent.
"We're trying to get a feel for what's out there," said Suzanne Fisler, Alaska State Parks permit officer at the river center. "Maybe we need to start on bank restoration projects -- are they really protecting habitat?"
Staff at the river center and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which provided the money, hope to identify issues, values, interests and criteria at a public meeting today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Cook Inlet Aquaculture building on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
"The first meeting is designed to have a discussion among all the different groups as to what are the gaps in the data and what are the priorities for research on the Kenai River and the Kenai watershed," Fisler said.
The river center staff invites anyone interested in submitting research proposals or joining the planning effort. The public is welcome, Fisler said, and the river center staff has invited groups and agencies that participated in a Kenai River working group several years ago.
"This effort is expected to serve more than just immediate needs," says a river center press release. "Prioritization of these activities could help direct future funding as well as help in the solicitation of future funds."
Fisler said she expects people to bring specific research proposals to a second meeting June 12 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the CIAA building. A facilitator hired to help with the meetings is to write its report by June 22. After that, the river center and EPA staff will decide which projects to fund. The money will go to individuals and partnerships among federal, state, tribal, local and nonprofit agencies.
Perhaps there already has been considerable research on some particular topic, Fisler said, and one more year would complete the study. Maybe that is what should be funded, she said. Perhaps the money should go for water quality monitoring, or that may require a long-term source of funding, and the $340,000 should go for something else.
Fisler said invitations to today's meeting listed research ideas from the state's 1997 Kenai River Comprehensive Management Plan, since those have been through the public process. Those proposals include studies to determine whether the borough's 50-foot habitat protection zone is adequate to protect the river, to evaluate habitat restoration projects and to determine the effects of boat wakes. However, boat wake studies already are planned this summer, Fisler said.
Meanwhile, that list is by no means the end of the story, she said. The door is open to other ideas.
The borough recently adopted an ordinance extending habitat protections previously afforded to the Kenai River to numerous tributaries and to other rivers from the Swanson River north of Kenai to the Fox River near Homer. The Kenai River Center is on the verge of becoming the Kenai Peninsula River Center, Fisler said, but what that means for spending the EPA grant remains unclear.
"I don't think that if someone walks through the door with a proposal for the Fox River that we wouldn't listen to it," she said. "This is kind of a work in progress."
The Kenai River Center opened in 1996 in response to landowners who complained that getting permits to build boardwalks and other projects along the river was too complicated and time consuming. With staff from the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the state's departments of Fish and Game and Natural Resources, it serves as as a clearinghouse for river information and permits. Fisler said EPA plans to station a worker at the center soon.
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