Due to increased demand for wetland permitting, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced plans to open a permanent regulatory field office in the central Kenai Peninsula, though no location has been identified yet.
Dave Casey, a biologist with the Corps in Anchorage, will head the office.
"Right now we have about 4 1/2 people, work force-wise, that work the Kenai Peninsula from east to west, Seward to Homer," Casey said.
He said the new office will allow those needing wetland permits to be served locally, rather than dealing with the Anchorage office.
"If someone wants to discharge fill material into the water, to fill a wetland, they need a permit from the Corps of Engineers to do that," he said.
His office also will review and reauthorize seasonal dock permits for the Kenai River.
The permanent field office grew out of a one-summer experiment when the Corps had an office at the old Kenai River Center in 1997.
"The positive feedback from this trial and increasing demand for regulatory services since has warranted our opening a permanent office so we can provide more timely responses to our regulatory customers," wrote Corps Alaska District Commander Col. Steven T. Perrenot in a press release.
Casey said a general increase in oil and gas exploration permitting and the seasonal dock reauthorization is prompting the field office.
"People come in every spring needing reauthorization, sort of the meat and potatoes stuff like that, and the ongoing growth of the area that is coming into play, such as housing, industry and commercial development," he said.
Casey admitted co-locating with the new Kenai River Center would be a compatible use, but there is not the space there to house more than him.
"Our plans are to grow our office to four people in two or three years."
John Czarnezki, a resource planner for the Kenai Peninsula Borough stationed at the Kenai River Center, said it will be exciting to have the Corps of Engineers in the neighborhood, even if they cannot be in the same building.
"They're going to provide a level of expertise that we typically have to get from Anchorage," Czarnezki said. "Having them down here will make our permitting go much quicker, and we'll be able to do on site inspections in a more timely manner."
Currently, if a permittee needs a Corps inspection, they must be flown down from Anchorage.
"Having them down here will benefit potential users of their services, and we're one of those," he said. "Having the Corps down here is a positive move that make sense to everyone."
He said hopefully if there is expansion at the river center in the future, the Corps can be housed there, as well.
Casey said the Corps hopes to have a location selected and a lease signed by October in the Kenai or Soldotna area. The office would serve customers from Sterling to Kasilof.
"Looking at our work load over the last 16 months, the Kasilof to Sterling area might be a little aggressive, but we'll grow as we go along," Casey said.
He foresees staffing the office by himself for the first 10 months and recruiting others after that.
He said he's received a lot of positive feedback from people at the river center and from real estate agents.
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