Guns and irate anglers are an explosive mix, and the city of Soldotna wants to keep them apart.
Soldotna City Manager Tom Boedeker has ordered signs posted at Centennial and Swiftwater campgrounds prohibiting firearms for the rest of the year. He asked the city council at Wednesday evening's meeting to look into making the ban permanent.
He cited recent confrontations and complaints involving armed people in those city parks.
"I felt action was necessary to minimize risk of injury or situations escalating out of hand," he wrote in a memo to the council.
But John Smallwood, one of the people involved in the incidents, voiced his objections to the council.
"You are very wrong, Mr. Boedeker," he said.
Smallwood said the ban and recent actions by the Soldotna police infringe on his right to carry firearms and his right to free speech.
"I have been packing a firearm for 42 years and recently made it legal," he said. "By law, we are allowed to have it, and that is just the way it is."
But tense situations involving park patrons, police and the guns have been escalating, said Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael.
City officials felt compelled to act. Earlier this week they put up signs announcing the weapons ban in the parks.
"Something could happen that no one means to happen," Mayor Ken Lancaster said later.
Smallwood, for his part, alleges that the problems began with inappropriate use of the handicapped fishing areas. He is handicapped and uses a motorized cart to get around.
Pedestrians have been using the handicapped platforms and blocking access for those for whom the areas were intended, he said.
Smallwood has asked some people if they are handicapped and received responses he called "sassy." One person bragged that he could fish anywhere he wanted because he had relatives in the police department, he said.
Smallwood accused the police of responding inappropriately to the incidents and confiscating his firearms.
"I have been played with, the last three or four days, by a couple of officers," he said.
"To me it is just harassment. And if I don't get those weapons back I will file suit against the city."
When council members asked Police Chief Shirley Warner about the allegations, she responded that she could not comment because of pending legal action.
In other city council action:
n The city will donate a lot to Habitat for Humanity for building a home.
The nonprofit organization, which helps low income families obtain houses, and Central Emergency Services, which has offered to provide the construction labor, asked the city for the property. The lot is on Sohi Lane north of Marydale, on land given the city in a swap with the Soldotna Bible Chapel.
The donation was challenged by council member Joyce Cox.
"I am opposed to the project," she said. "I believe we would definitely benefit the citizens more if we do something else."
Cox critiqued the large donation to benefit a single family. The people of Soldotna would be better served if the city sold the lot and used the money to purchase things many could use, such as playground equipment, she said.
Council members Dave Carey and Jane Stein touted the project as an opportunity to involve high school students in a vocational and public service project.
The council approved the donation on a 5-to-1 vote, with Cox dissenting.
n Water quality is improving in the city, Public Works Director Steve Bonebrake reported.
The city utility crew recently finished this year's "pigging" the water mains, a procedure that cleans the insides by scooting a scouring plug through the lines.
Four years of cleaning has improved the water's taste, lowered costs and made it easier to do ongoing maintenance, he said.
n Work on the new recreation site at Karen Street will begin soon, Carmichael said.
Clearing on the property, which will become a children's ski and snowboarding area, will begin in early September. The cut trees will be recycled for trails and restoration projects at Swiftwater Camp-ground, he said.
The next meeting of the Soldotna City Council will be Sept. 13 at Soldotna City Hall on Birch Street.
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