Controversial launch may be relocated

Posted: Friday, August 03, 2001

Creating a boat ramp on the land the state Legislature designated on the lower Kenai River could pose regulatory problems, according to an official with the Alaska Division of Parks, so it is looking at a different lot to develop.

Chris Degernes, park superintendent for the Kenai Peninsula, discussed the issue with the Kenai City Council Wednesday night.

A 10-acre lot, four parcels upstream of Cunningham Park on Beaver Loop Road, was designated by the Alaska Legislature as the land to buy in a $350,000, 11th-hour appropriation at the end of this year's legislative session. Degernes said it crosses wetlands and could be hard to get permits for.

Parks is suggesting the four down-river lots adjacent to Cunningham Park, totaling 5 acres, though they carry problems of their own, most significantly a rather steep bank.

But Rep. Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, who introduced the appropriation in the House Finance Committee he chairs, needs some assurances before he signs on to the new selection.

"I'm willing to discuss the possibility, but first I want to know it doesn't pose insurmountable barriers or problems," he said Thursday from his Anchorage office. "I want to know if it's physically possible and if it's cost affordable. And I want (Parks') commitment that it will be done.

"So before I back off, I want a dead solid commitment that it will happen."

Cunningham Park once had an informal boat launch, but it was removed about 10 years ago when the city upgraded it. Since then, there have been several attempts at putting in a lower-river boat ramp. The city operates one of its several ramps at its harbor facility near the mouth, but the next one up is at The Pillars, at river mile 12.5. Cunningham Park is at about river mile 6.5.

Both Mulder and Degernes agree a new ramp would benefit boaters greatly. Degernes said the lines were so long at the city's boat ramp and The Pillars during the dipnet season that fishers were putting in at Centennial Park in Soldotna and running down the river to fish.

Centennial Park is just past river mile 20. The July dipnet fishery on the Kenai begins at river mile 5.

"If the agencies work with us, I would greatly prefer this location over the other side," said Kenai Mayor John Williams about the alternate property.

He also said the city would be open to acquiring the property and operating the launch, as long as it can charge a launch fee.

"We would have no objection to the city charging a fee to launch there," Degernes said.

Parks, which operates The Pillars, charges a $10 launch fee, and its season permits are not usable there so as not to unfairly compete with private boat launches nearby.

Some of the city council members expressed concern over the adjacent selection.

"I favor going with the original 10 acres," Linda Swarner said. "A boat ramp will interfere with people's favorite fishing holes. It needs to be kept away from there."

Jim Bookey agreed, saying he could foresee conflict between bank anglers and boaters.

"If you can fix that problem, I'm all for it," he said. "But if not, I'm against it."

Degernes said the actual ramp could be placed near the far end of the 5-acre lot, away from the boardwalk where people fish. However, a buffer would need to be in place on the far side to separate the lot from a couple of residences there.

Kenai Parks and Recreation Director Bob Frates said boat ramp use is not prolonged and he didn't see it causing any use issues there, except for the need of additional restrooms.

Council member Joe Moore suggested looking at a boat launch off Ciechanski Road on the south side of the river, though the mayor said he thinks it might present even more challenges.

Council member Pat Porter said she wants the state to work on the new selection and see if it pans out.

"I personally would like to see it attached to Cunningham Park," she said.

Degernes said there should be public meetings so the department could hear of any possible conflicts.

She said design and planning for either site wouldn't begin until next year, and the soonest anything could be built is 2003.

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