Boat launch site splits city council

Cunningham Park neighbors upset

Posted: Monday, November 12, 2001

In a 4-3 vote, the Kenai City Council endorsed a boat launch adjacent to the Cunningham Park fishing spot, over the objections of several citizens.

Like a beached salmon, the potential location of the boat launch has flip-flopped from one side of the park to the other, and briefly, to the other side of the river.

The original designated spot was a 10-acre lot upstream of Cunningham Park, but the state said the property was unsuitable because of wetland issues.

This summer, the council floated the idea of the spot adjacent to, and downstream of, Cunningham Park, but neighbors said traffic in their area would increase, causing congestion when cars with trailers line up to launch boats. Other objections included the interference with bank sport anglers by boats entering and leaving the launch.

Briefly, the city suggested putting a boat launch at the viewing platform at the south side of the Warren Ames Memorial Bridge, but the state shot that idea down as well. That's when the downstream spot came up again.

"The agencies are against the other sites," Kenai Mayor John Williams said. "And if the agencies say 'no,' you're not going to win unless you're prepared to spend a million dollars."

The agencies in question are the state Division of Parks and Department of Fish and Game.

Council member Amy Jackman expressed concern that the city was giving in to the state just to get money for the park.

"The state refuses to meet us halfway," she said.

"It's a travesty to put a launch at that park," said Beaver Loop resident Chris Garcia.

He said a boat launch will become a hot spot for nonresident guides to use.

He also took a shot at Anchorage Republican Rep. Eldon Mulder, who pushed through a last-minute $350,000 spending bill authorizing the purchase of the property for the boat launch. No funding has been passed to develop the property.

"Do you think he had the best interest of the city of Kenai when he did it?" Garcia asked rhetorically. "If you want to improve that park, put playground equipment in, like Martha (Cunningham) originally wanted."

Neighbor Jim Krein agreed, saying there already are two public boat launches in the city.

"The only benefit I see is to people from outside. It will do a disservice to bank fishermen, those who can't buy boats," he said. "A lot of families come to the park with their children, and now they'll see guides come in and out with disregard to common courtesy."

Krein also pointed out that if the property were turned into a public launch, it would be taken off of the property tax roles, which would offset any fees collected for its use.

The zoning in that area of Beaver Loop is rural residential, which is the least restrictive in the city. The area includes the city's only gravel pits, for example.

"Just because it is zoned rural residential, it doesn't mean I should be able to walk in here and say I want to open a nuclear plant and have it rubber-stamped," Krein said.

Larry Rosko said he is not in favor of the boat launch at Cunningham Park for many reasons, including the affect it would have on property values. He said he has turned down an opportunity to buy property nearby because the park is there.

Mike Ashwell disputed the contention that another public boat ramp was needed to reduce congestion at the city dock and The Pillars boat launches.

"There's no problem launching a boat at the city dock in August or June," he said. "A boat launch (at Cunningham Park) doesn't even maintain a quality of life, much less improve it."

"I guarantee this will cause problems," Garcia added. "This is a 100 percent very, very bad idea, and I encourage the city not to sell out for $350,000."

In the end the council voted 4-3 to endorse the Cunningham Park location. The six council members voted 3-3, and Williams paused before casting the deciding vote.

Besides Williams, council members Duane Bannock, Pat Porter and Jim Bookey voted yes. Linda Swarner, Joe Moore and Jackman voted no.

Williams held open the possibility that a launch could be put in on the south shore a couple miles upstream, but no official talks have been held on that option.

"There's a lot of time left. This is a three-year process," he said. "I want the administration to look at the other side of the river."

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