Kenai nets income

Posted: Sunday, August 15, 2004

Personal-use fishing at the mouth of the Kenai River is netting a large chunk of money for the city of Kenai.

The popular dipnet fishery draws thousands of Alaska residents to the mouth of the river each July, where returning sockeye salmon easily can be scooped from the water.

This means big money for the city, since there are basically just three places fishers can go to get their catch all of them requiring that a fee be paid into the city's coffers.

This year's dipnet fishery which ran from July 9 to 31 made a total of $169,952.72 for the city, a figure that equates to nearly $7,400 per day.

However, according to Kenai City Manager Linda Snow, that money isn't all profit. Snow said the city not only pays to maintain city facilities, but also had a high initial investment in getting city areas ready when the dipnetting phenomenon began in 1996.

"I do think that's important to consider," Snow said Friday.

For example, Snow said the city paid an initial cost of $150,000 to pave the parking lot at the north beach at the end of Spruce Street. Although all funds raised at the beach go into the general fund, Snow said the city still has to recoup the funds the city spent upfront.

The city collects parking fees at three places near the mouth of the river. Parking lots on the north and south side of the mouth accommodate dipnetters who wade out into the water, while the city's boat launch takes care of boat-based dippers.

According to figures provided by the city, the most lucrative area this year was on the north side beach, where the city collected $76,719.02 in parking fees.

The boat launch facility collected $51,769.85 in fees, while the south side beach area collected $41,463.85.

All of these figures are the highest ever, breaking last year's mark of $107,926 during the month of July.

The 2004 season's largest one-day take for the city was July 17, when more than $15,000 poured into the city's coffers. On that weekend alone, the city collected more than $38,000 between Friday and Sunday.

Of course, not all the money is profit. As its part in seeing the fishery grow, the city spends a number of resources on the river.

To collect fees, the city staffs a pay booth at each site, which cost more than $20,000 over the course of the summer. The city also pays to maintain public toilet facilities, empty Dumpsters and have police on patrol.

According to figures provided by the city, the estimated base cost of maintaining the fishery amounted to more than $69,000 this summer.

The city's official policy is to return money it collects from the fishery back to maintaining and improving the beach facilities.

However, when the city's expenses are subtracted from revenues at the fishery, Kenai still appears to come out ahead, as revenue exceeded expenses by more than $100,000 in 2004.

Snow said although the city council can spend the money however it sees fit, it's in the city's best interest to reinvest the money on day-to-day operations.

"We aren't going to stop improving that fishery," Snow said.

Much of the funds accumulated during this year's dipnet fishery likely will be used to improve public access to the beach.

City officials said Wednesday they're already in the process of putting together a list of improvements that could be made for next year.

"The various departments directly involved with the dipnet fishery will be sitting down and kind of looking at what's needed," Kenai Parks and Recreation Director Bob Frates said.

One of the biggest problems the city had last year was at the boat launch, where Kenai Public Works Director Keith Kornelis said the line to launch and pick-up boats often stretched from the launch all the way to Bridge Access Road.

"On a couple weekends we had some really low tides, and they were really backed up," Kornelis said.

To alleviate crowding at the launch, the city is planning to use a $350,000 grant from the state of Alaska to construct two new boat ramp launches at the city dock.

Those ramps should be done in time for next summer's fishing season, although Kornelis said the city still is going through the final permitting process.

Another improvement the city is looking at is a new access road at the dock that would create one-way entrance and exit capabilities.

That plan relies on a number of factors, however, including a proposed land swap between the city and the Land Conservation Trust.

Other improvements the city is considering include paving the access roads and parking lots, making improvements to beach access trails, adding more lighting at the city dock and adding more outhouses on the south side of the river.

Kornelis said there is no plan at this time for any specific improvements, but he believes the city will continue to invest in what is becoming an important part of Kenai's economy.

"It seems to get a little better every year," he said.

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