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Kenai's wildfire mitigation efforts questioned, explained

Posted: Friday, July 04, 2008

Because Kenai is considered to be in the "wildland urban interface" in forester lingo, it is among several communities within the Kenai Peninsula Borough covered by the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, according to a fire prevention team member.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Austin Roberts mows grass in front of Kenai Central High School near an area that has been cleared of brush for the Firewise program. Some residents of Kenai have questioned whether the program is removing too much moose browse.

Judith Reese told Kenai City Council members on Wednesday the prime goal of plan is "to protect life and property."

As the protection plan pertains to the city of Kenai, Reese, a Firewise team member with the Alaska Division of Forestry, said the plan is set up to mitigate and minimize risk.

Reese was invited to address the council in response to citizen criticism that removal of low-lying brush by forestry contract crews in areas around town was taking away desirable moose browse.

Council members were told that part of the wildfire protection plan involves fuel reduction, including the removal of what she called "dead aerial fuels," "ladder fuels," "dead, down woody materials" and the overall volume of combustibles.

"We do see a lot of benefits as far as browse species because dead and down materials are no good to anyone," Reese said.

In developing the wildfire plan, Reese said forestry officials evaluated the city, identifying risks around the community.

Bluff areas and ravines were noted as particular problem spots for wind-driven fires, she said.

As part of the plan, forestry contractors are doing fuel reduction and mitigation work right now in Kenai, Reese said, and Firewise teams are visiting individual homeowners to help evaluate measures that can be taken to protect homes from wildfire danger.

She said workers are clearing right-of-ways in the city, but are not doing work on private lands. If asked, they will tell private property owners what can be done.

Homeowners can receive up to $2,500 in cost-share grants for performing certain fire mitigation work on their own property, Reese said.

Firewise team members would first visit the home and determine what work needed to be done, and would perform follow-up visits as work is completed.

"They can do it themselves or hire someone to do it," Reese said. "It's especially good for senior citizens."

Reese lauded Kenai as being one of two communities in the central Kenai Peninsula area to have a slash disposal site right in the community. The site is next to the solid waste transfer station on Redoubt Avenue. The Cohoe community south of Kasilof also has a slash disposal site.

Councilman Bob Molloy said there have been complaints from residents that too many live trees are being removed by forestry contract workers, slash piles are left too long without being picked up and clearing brush from gullies creates more street noise in neighborhoods.

Molloy asked if anyone monitors the amount of brush clearing being done and how the work adds to highway noise.

He said he would like to see a meeting scheduled with the contractor to discuss oversight.

In other business, the council approved a one-time $5,000 contribution to the Central Area Rural Transit System (CARTS).

Already receiving financial assistance from the borough and from Soldotna, CARTS Executive Director Jennifer Beckmann had asked Kenai for an assist as well.

During questioning from council members, Beckmann said CARTS ridership is going up as gasoline prices are rising, but she added, the rising cost of fuel is impacting CARTS negatively as well.

Councilwoman Linda Swarner asked if Beckmann had considered providing shuttles for workers going to work in the morning and home in the evening.

Beckmann said people would still need a ride to the shuttle pickup points, and said it would be difficult to know what would be the best times for running the shuttles.

"The hard truth is it's all about money," Beckmann said.

Councilman Rick Ross directed the council attention to minutes from the June 25 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, included in the council information packet. At that meeting, the commission denied a request by DigiTel to exceed height restrictions and erect an 80-foot cell phone antenna tower in the parking lot of Kenai Grace Brethren Church at McCollum Drive and the Kenai Spur Highway.

City Attorney Cary Graves said DigiTel has 15 days from the date of the denial to file an appeal. As of Wednesday, no appeal had been filed with the Kenai city clerk's office.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.



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