Public comment sought for dunes fence project

Posted: Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The public comment period for the Kasilof Dunes project will end in six days with various interest groups still uncertain about whether a protective fence will materialize before the dipnetting season hits high gear.

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Photo By Will Morrow
Photo By Will Morrow
Camps are set up along the dunes near the mouth of the Kasilof River during the personal-use setnet fishery Monday afternoon. With more traffic along the Kasilof beach for the setnet and dipnet fisheries, a coalition of residents and agencies is looking at ways to protect the area.

The Department of Natural Resources' comment period ends on June 28, three weeks before the beginning of the site's peak activity, according to the Department of Fish and Game. Rick Thompson, of the Department of Natural Resources, said that it's unlikely his division will know the outcome of the public comment period until next year.

Thompson said that the area is going through an application to become special use land as well, which would limit ATV and other vehicular traffic over the grass. He said that if the special land use designation is put in place his department could take certain civil actions against users who violate an rules designed to protect the dune.

"We could ask them to stop because the rules say not to," he said.

Right now, the permanent fence is considered would be erected 25 feet behind the average high water mark, according to the application with the Department of Natural Resources. Brent Johnson, head of the Kasilof Historical Association, said that the number is misleading because the fence actually will follow the grassline, which is 50 feet behind the high tides at some places.

"They'll be room for vehicles," he said.

But Ken Federicko, head of the South Central Dipnetters Assocation, said he'd like place the fence 35 feet if water logging becomes an issue. Federicko said that members of his group have raised concerns that the current plan won't leave enough space for two vehicles to pass each other at higher tides.

"It turns into a one-lane road," he said.

Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, said that vehicles will have space to pass unless a storm surge couples with an unseasonably high tide.

The personal use fishery has seen increased activity in recent years. Ken Marsh, information agent at Fish and Game, said that more than 7,500 households fished at the Kasilof site in 2009, up from just less than 5,500 the year before.

Ruffner said that the increased activity threatens to uproot the grass, which holds the dune together. Ruffner said that the area will erode if the four wheelers and other vehicles continue to roll over the grass, which will threaten marshlands behind them.

Kenai Wildlife Refuge biologist Todd Eskelin has nominated the marsh to become an Audubon Society International Bird Area. According to Eskelin's research, about half the world's population of a sub-species of rock sand-piper birds rests in Kasilof beach during their migration north. He said that other migratory birds stop in the area as well.

"They need stop-over spots to refuel before moving towards their breeding grounds." he said.

Without adequate feeding at the pit stop, Eskelin said that the birds will arrive at their breeding ground in poor condition. He speculates that there will be a long-term degradation of the bird population if the dune erodes.

The International Bird Area designation adds no enforcement measures to the marshland. But conservation groups will monitor the avian population in the area, said Matt Kirchhoff the Audubon's Alaskan Director of Bird Conservation.

While some groups are considering the location of the fence, others are mulling over how to build it.

Johnson said that he favors attaching the chains to concrete posts because they won't rot. He said that treated wooden posts can rot, catch fire and are more susceptible to theft.

"No one's going to throw [a concrete post] over their shoulder, put it in their pick up and take it home for another use," he said.

The group has also considered using left-over pipe from oil fields, which Johnson estimated will cost less.

Ruffner said that the group needs to address the issue of bathrooms for the area, as well.

"When you've got 1,000 people and the nearest bathroom is three quarters of a mile away..." he said.

Two students from Nikiski High School and their teacher are hoping to install a temporary orange fence around the dune in the meantime, but they're waiting on the state for permits, according to their teacher Phil Morin.

Issues of land ownership also must be considered.

The Division of Mining, Land and Water manages most of the public domain land. But the Alaska Mental Health Trust owns some of it, as well.

Mental Health Trust Land Office's director Marcie Menefee said that the boundaries are unclear. She said the office has hired a surveyor to investigate the matter.

"There are no lines on the ground," she said. "No one knows where our property lies."

She said that the trust will discuss the status of the fence if, and when, it's determined to be on their property.

The state legislature has budgeted $60,000 for the project.

Tony Cella can be reached at

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