Beekeepers swarmed Kenai City Council chambers Wednesday night in support of a municipal ordinance that would allow residents to keep hives in neighborhoods.
"Most people see a flying insect that's not a fly or a mosquito and assume it is a bee that is coming to get them," said Sarah Souders, who keeps bees behind her home in Kenai's Woodland subdivision. She told the council about the public's misunderstanding of honeybees, which she says actually have a "non-aggressive nature."
Souders was cited this spring for having hives in her back yard -- first as an animal control issue, and then as a zoning issue. According to city attorney Krista Stearns, the bees in Souders back yard were considered agricultural, a use not zoned for in the suburban residential subdivision.
In an organized sting operation, Souders and other beekeepers -- including a couple from Outside -- testified at the meeting urging council to adopt legislation similar to the cities of Anchorage, Seattle and New York City.
"There's nothing on the books regarding honeybees, saying you can have them, saying you can't have them," Souders said. "I guess I ask that there be something in place so I don't have to go through this again."
After Souders' presentation, Kenai Mayor Pat Porter directed city administration to work on legislation regarding residential beekeeping.
"What I anticipate we do as a council is to take this on and make it legal to keep bees in the city," Porter said.
She said that because of the process the city government goes through it might not be until the fall or early winter that council has working regulations regarding beehives.
After Porter and council agreed to work on this ordinance, residents and visitors still made a beeline to the podium for public comment.
Hobbyist beekeepers from Soldotna, Sandra and Ralph Sterling, came to the council meeting to wax poetically about their bee experiences.
Sandra brought in a photograph to show to the council of honeybees crawling around on her hand. She has kept bees since 2005.
"My experience was very limited before that, I was afraid of bees like people who have no education," she said. "What I learned was honeybees in your back yard are not a problem."
Ralph said honeybees are important to the environment.
"Responsible beekeeping is as much a part of the community as anything else, it helps your flora, your fauna and your gardens," he said.
James Shindler, of York, Penn., up on a fishing trip to the central Kenai Peninsula, told the council that agriculture and beekeeping should be considered as separate issues.
"That worker honeybee can only sting you one time before she dies and they're not anxious to do that," he said. "I just feel that too often this type of legislation is put into or considered part of animal husbandry with keeping goats and chickens and cows."
Tom Lehman, of Harrisburg, Penn., testified about queen bees and how the hives work.
"It's much more organized than we are," Lehman said. "They're amazing."
Kenai City Manager Rick Koch said that keeping beehives behind one's house is not currently illegal.
"Having the beehives themselves is not a violation, it's what happens with the bees," he said. "It's my intent to work through this thing and not to worry about giving people citations."
"We'll get it sorted out and by the next beekeeping season I think we'll have something in the works," he added.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at email@example.com.
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