DEC dumps Kenai Peninsula

Posted: Monday, July 28, 2003

The commentary by Ernesta Ballard of Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation in last Tuesday's Peninsula Clarion reminds me of a sleezy used car salesman saying "trust me!" It is quite true that DEC is supposed to protect the precious "crown jewels" of Alaska like the Kenai River. However, as Paul Harvey always suggests, there is "the rest of the story."

DEC has a terrible track record of finding and responding to pollution in Alaska. Ernesta Ballard of DEC claims her agency will respond to problems, but it is blatantly obvious that if they don't know of problems, they don't have to respond. To keep from being told about potential problems, DEC has announced it will usurp the money the Environmental Protection Agency designated for monitoring the Kenai River and other rivers in the state.

What is worse, DEC has no plans to start monitoring the Kenai River itself. The bottom line is this: Polluters are now free to dump anything they want into the river and DEC won't know.

Being perfectly accurate, DEC said it will monitor hydrocarbon levels in the Kenai River this summer. This action is happening only after being repeatedly told about problems and high levels being found during three years of water quality sampling by a local coalition.

However, DEC also tried to suppress that hydrocarbon information, probably so the public wouldn't demand more immediate action. Only when it is forced by public exposure does DEC even feign a re-sponse.

A coalition of governmental (Ke-nai Peninsu-la Borough, city of Kenai, city of Soldot-na, and several federal and state agencies) and non-governmental organizations (the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, the Kenai Watershed Forum, the Kenai River Sportfishing Associ-ation, etc.) has been monitoring the Kenai River for several years. The coalition's monitoring has been of very high quality, using the exact equipment or testing labs as DEC or EPA.

Please note that by using a coalition of entities working together, far more monitoring can be done for far less than if DEC were to do it. If we want the most "bang for our governmental buck," we should encourage DEC to fund even more coalitions throughout the state because they'll be more cost efficient than DEC.

We should be insulted by the way DEC is choosing to disregard the importance of the Kenai River to the economics of this area. Instead, DEC will spend its money working on cleaning up streams in Anchorage.

Just how many tourists come to Anchorage to spend time around a stream surrounded by a bustling metropolis?

The Kenai River is the major economic engine of this area. When the Kenai River gets polluted, there won't be many fish for our commercial fishers to catch. Do you think tourists will flock to the resorts, guide services, or bed-and-breakfast businesses so they can hang around a "dead river" on the Kenai Peninsula? If you are a recreational fisher, you'll have to look for another place to wet a line.

Oh, by the way, when that pollution happens, someone will have to write to the DEC several times since the agency won't know about it. It will probably take them another three years to respond too! DEC is simply going to burying its head in the sand and hope nothing ever happens.

If you make your living involved in the fishing industry, commercial or sport fishing, you have to be insulted by DEC's actions. If you make your living involved in the tourism industry, you have to be outraged by DEC's actions. If your recreation or subsistence comes from the Kenai River, you have to be fearful of DEC's actions.

Your livelihood, recreation or subsistence is in serious jeopardy of being destroyed by pollution that DEC will never find.

Perhaps we should call the governor's office and say we want DEC to support monitoring of the Kenai River.

David Wartinbee is a stream ecologist who lives in Soldotna.

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