New map documents spill history of Kenai River

Posted: Thursday, October 03, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A new map created by the state Department of Environmental Conservation is one of the first tangible changes emerging from a four-month review of the state's handling of environmental problems near the Kenai River.

It shows how the river has hit by years of oil, gasoline, chemical pollution.

The computer-generated map is broad, vague and not very enlightening to DEC engineers. But it holds meaning to people who fish and make a living off the river. The salmon-rich Kenai is a vital part of the region's economy and a beloved place to have fun.

''That (map) alone is pretty alarming,'' said Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, a nonprofit that researches and promotes the health of the river ecosystem.

The map was created by the DEC within the last four months.

Some people have complained about the slow and costly pace of cleanup. The state says pollution response is a tricky business and ''cleanup'' can be misleading.

Those worried about the river's health have found a mouthpiece in the Kenai River Special Management Area board, a panel that advises agencies regulating the river.

For the past six months, this board -- a mix of state, city and federal officials, guides, anglers and commercial fishermen -- has been insisting that DEC move faster.

''They need to cut to the chase, eliminate the problem and then settle the lawsuits,'' board member Joe Connors, president of the Kenai River Professional Guides Association, told the Anchorage Daily News.

The DEC and Watershed Forum have scheduled a public meeting to air some larger riverside contamination issues.

The meeting, 6:30-9 p.m. Oct. 10 at the Soldotna Sports Center, will focus on six high-profile cases. Among them: a lingering dry-cleaning solvent spill at River Terrace RV Park in Soldotna, underground gasoline leaks at Cook's Tesoro and Zip Mart in Sterling, last winter's tanker fuel spill in Cooper Landing and road salt contamination at the old Department of Transportation site in Soldotna.

While the parties involved say the river is healthy and its fisheries abundant, board members say the public is irritated by pollution problems that won't go away.

But in most cases, the DEC says, it has done all that it can. Or at least, all it will.

Sometimes that means leaving some bad chemicals in the ground. The state will do that if the pollution source doesn't pose a risk to well water or salmon streams, said Jim Frechione, a manager in DEC's contaminated sites program.

''We feel that sometimes, oftentimes, nature can take care of its own if you let it do so over time,' he said. ''It's a hard thing for people to accept, but I think it's where you'll be seeing us going.''

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