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House supports protecting access to Kenai River fishing

Posted: Wednesday, July 24, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to protect public access to a world-class fishing spot on the Kenai River.

The House approved a land deal settling Cook Inlet Region Inc.'s claim to 2,010 acres surrounding the confluence of the Russian and Kenai rivers.

The site is home to ''perhaps the most heavily used public sports fishery in Alaska,'' said Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who sponsored the bill.

In an innovative arrangement that took years to work out, CIRI will give up its claim to the land but will retain rights to archaeological sites on 502 acres.

The Native corporation will also get a 42-acre parcel on the bluff overlooking the confluence from across the Sterling Highway, where it may build a visitor center, a lodge, a restaurant and other facilities.

The sport fishery, which draws both Alaskans and tourists, brings dollars into the Kenai Peninsula economy -- $5.8 million, according to congressional testimony.

The owner of nearby Gwin's Lodge said he's pleased the cloud over the Russian has lifted.

''When you think about it, it's probably the most prolific sockeye sport fishery in the world,'' Robert Siter said.

The bill authorizes a $13.8 million payment to CIRI for construction of the visitor center and a related archaeological research center.

CIRI will also get a 20-acre parcel farther up the Kenai, where the Sterling Highway crosses the river. A 50-foot easement along the river will preserve public access there.

Carl Marrs, president of CIRI, said the dispute dates back more than 25 years. At the time, as CIRI's land manager, he filed for the land under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, he said at a congressional hearing last month.

The spot has drawn people for several thousand years, archaeologists say. The Kachemak Riverine culture faded from the scene about 1,000 years ago, giving way to the Dena'ina Indians, who set up their own fish camps.

The bill was passed with no apparent opposition. It must still pass in the Senate before Congress adjourns for the year. CIRI will have to separately seek the $13.8 million in an appropriation bill.



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