The Kenai City Council had before it Wednesday a resolution in support of a new boat ramp adjacent to Cunningham Park, but by the end of the night, the council members voted to support the original choice, upstream.
During the Aug. 1 council meeting, the debate between the two sites along Beaver Loop Road began. Both have benefits and problems.
The upriver site, four lots east of Cunningham Park, is 10 acres, double the size of the downriver lots. It also has the advantage of not having anyone living immediately adjacent. The only stumbling block is that wetlands will have to be crossed and filled to build a launch.
According to Chris Degernes, Division of Parks superintendent for the Kenai Peninsula, if the state continues to pursue the upriver land, Degernes said, it would put her in an odd situation.
"We would be in the position to promote what we opposed in the early '90s," she said.
About 10 years ago, the city tried to develop a boat launch on the acreage just upstream of the 10-acre property. The State Department of Natural Resources fought the project, and land wound up being bought with Exxon Valdez Oil Spill money for habitat.
The downriver lots, four, which combined equal about 5 acres, have no wetlands issues, but do have residences next door in Wild Rose Subdivision. The bank also is rather steep, about 6 feet above the water. Another benefit is the co-management opportunities if it is connected to Cunningham Park.
But the possibility of motor and drift boats going in and out of the water where anglers are eventually proved to be the downfall of the site in the eyes of council members. Several of them, and members of the public, voiced concerns over increased traffic in the residential area, vehicles waiting to launch or retrieve boats backed up onto the narrow two-lane Beaver Loop and interference with the bank fishers who frequent the existing park.
"I'm stuck," said Kenai Mayor John Williams. "On the one hand, I prefer the 10-acre site. But on the other hand, I'd accept the other site if it was more likely to be built."
The $350,000 added to the state Legislature's budget at the end of the session by Rep. Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, came with instructions to buy the upriver lot from Vern "Bud" Lofstedt Sr. Lofstedt also owns the four smaller downstream lots. Mulder has said that if the state Division of Parks is sincere about building the downriver site, he would be willing to go along with it.
Paul Shadura spoke against both sites at Wednesday night's meeting, saying the Legislature is using the peninsula as "a political golf ball."
"Three-hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money that could go elsewhere," he said. "We're only asking $30,000 to regulate the mouth of the river (during the dipnet season)."
Another questioned why a boat ramp was not being considered for the state-owned viewing area on the south side of the Warren Ames Memorial Bridge, about one river mile from Cunningham Park.
Council member Joe Moore agreed a location on the other side of the river is preferable. He previously suggested a site off Ciechanski Road.
"Every comment we've heard is valid. I can't disagree," he said during discussion of the two sites near Cunningham Park. Regarding the downstream sites, he added, "If this resolution moves forward, I won't support it."
Council member Jim Bookey said he wants to see a boat ramp somewhere on the lower river and that he prefers the larger upriver site. He also brought up the question of designating it a drift boat retrieval ramp only.
Council member Linda Swarner liked that idea, but asked how that would be enforced.
Council member Duane Bannock said he was not too excited about the lots adjacent to Cunningham and asked his colleagues if the wetlands on the 10-acre lot upriver were the city's problem.
"It's not for me," he said.
The council substituted the 10-acre site for the smaller ones in the resolution and passed it 6-0.
The council's vote does not set in stone which site would be used, and construction money is yet to be appropriated, so building it could be a few years away. But Degernes said the city's resolution carries a lot of weight with the state.
"It's not our purpose to force this down your throats," she said.
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