What side of the fence?: Comment period on Kasilof dunes fencing project extended

Posted: Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The public comment period for the Kasilof dunes fencing project has been extended amid confusion over the terms of the comment period and disputes over the location of fencing. The Department of Natural Resources has received only nine comments so far.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
After an afternoon of halibut fishing, Kenneth Brown, of Soldotna, pulls his boat down the Cook Inlet beach at the mouth of the Kasilof River in an area where some want to place a mile-long fence. "If everybody would stay on the roads they'd be OK," Brown said. "But they won't stay off the dunes." He said he was concerned that the planned fence would make it much more difficult for him to get his boat in and out of the water.

Department regional manager Rick Thompson said that individuals incorrectly thought that comments made at an meeting in Kasilof would be included in the department's decision making process regarding the dunes. The deadline for comment is now Aug. 5 at 5 p.m.

It's unlikely that any actual fence work can be done this late in the season, especially with land ownership issues still being addressed. A recent survey showed that the Mental Health Trust owned more land along Coho Road than previously known, Mental Health Trust land director Marcia Menefee said. Since the dip-net area opened, fisherman have crossed Health Trust land on their way to the beach. The Mental Health Trust Land Office filed to transfer land surrounding the entrance of the dipnet fishery to state land.

Brent Johnson, who made the proposal, wants to install a fence that follows the grassline along the dunes. Johnson, head of the Kasilof Historical Society, said that this will keep vehicles off the grass that holds back soil erosion.

Retired Department of Fish and Game biologist Ken Tarbox has been arguing that the fence should be 25 feet from the grass on the dunes. Tarbox said that a fence directly on the grass will place vehicular travel too close to potential nesting areas. Passersby can inadvertently scare birds from nesting grounds and run over chicks that wander into traffic. The retired scientist said that the additional space between the fence and the grasslands will create space for the habitat to re-grow, and offer enough room for vehicles to drive along the shore.

"The lack of management speaks to a failure of the state system," said the former state scientist.

Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assemblyman Jim Colver, who dipnets on the Kasilof, said that such a fence could eliminate an existing motorway, which violates the department's policy of maintaining "traditional means of access." Wynn Menefee, the department's Chief of Operations, said that the fence location is acceptable because the statute only bars blocking roadways for "aesthetic purposes." The fence project aims to protect a habitat.

Executive Director of the Kenai River Sportsfishing Association Ricky Gease supports putting the fence right against the grass line. The location proposed by Tarbox will block dipnetters attempting to access the beach. Gease said that the location could also trap dipnetters on the beach when the water rises.

Ken Federico, head of the South Central Alaska Dipnetters Association, said that placing the fence farther from the grass gives the appearance that there are two trails, one on each side. Placing the fence in the midst of the tide water will increase maintenance costs.

The current proposal only deals with fencing, but other issues have entered the discussion during the comment period.

Officials said that some commenters were concerned that trails through the dunes may be blocked off by the project. Gease said that the fencing current trails had been discussed, but fencing off the trails would require a larger budget. Tarbox opposes the trails because the additional traffic could disturb nesting grounds.

On the issue of camping management, the retired scientist believes that camping should be banned because of the amount of human activity that comes to the region.

If the fence is built directly in front of the grass, Federicko could accept a ban on beach camping. Should the fence be installed closer to the shoreline, however, the dipnetter thinks that campers should be allowed to pitch tents on the side closer to the grasslands.

Johnson said that he has no problem with camping, as long as vehicles stay off the grass that holds the dunes together. Gease suggested that Mental Heath Trust open up its land to the south of the personal-use fishery for a recreational vehicle park and camp ground.

Menefee said that her office looked for contractor to start an RV park recently, but no one wanted to invest the necessary capital for a business that will operates for a short time period. According to the Department of Fish and Game, the half of fishery's sockeye harvest takes place between July 11 and 21. The assemblyman proposed creating a parking area for RV's without the usual amenities of a full scale campground. He said that the extras could be added over a longer period of time.

Tony Cella can be reached at tony.cella@peninsulaclarion.com.

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