Planners are putting the finishing touches on an update of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Coastal Management Plan, which could be adopted by the assembly early next year, said Coastal Management Coordinator Gary Williams.
The document will guide the borough’s participation as one of 35 recognized coastal districts within the Alaska Coastal Management Program (ACMP), and future activities and land uses within the borough requiring local, state or federal authorization will be reviewed for consistency with the plan.
At its meeting today, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is expected to adopt an ordinance accepting and appropriating a small grant of $3,154 to cover the costs of printing, postage, distribution and public notices for the updated plan.
In 2003, state lawmakers passed House Bill 191 to reform and streamline the ACMP, creating a new program that would retain the benefits of the federal act but eliminate duplications and complexity in the current program, Williams told the assembly in September.
The borough already has received three state grants totaling $71,000 with which to further the rewrite process.
“We are in the final stages of the new draft approval process,” Williams said. “We are awaiting (Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Michael Menge’s) approval of the final language of the enforceable policies.”
Williams said he hoped to have the draft on the Planning Commission’s next agenda, which would put it on a schedule for reaching the assembly probably in January.
When the Legislature changed the rules, the borough hired LaRoche and Associates to assist in revising the local plan to meet the new state requirements. That work began in 2004, and in February of this year, the assembly approved a resolution approving the concept of the new plan.
In a letter to the assembly, Gabrielle LaRoche, principal planner with the company, said the ACMP had changed significantly. One result is that the borough may no longer write policies about air, land or water quality issues, because those are regulated exclusively by the Department of Environmental Conservation, she said.
In addition, for the borough to have policies for many types of uses and resources, it first must designate specific areas for those uses and resources based on scientific studies, LaRoche said. This applies to recreation, subsistence, natural hazards, tourism, major energy facilities, important habitats, commercial fishing and seafood processing, and historical areas.
“For the Kenai Peninsula Borough, many of these new requirements, particularly pertaining to important habitats, presented insurmountable obstacles” resulting in deletion of broader local policies, she said.
Williams said the Legislature constructed the law in such a way that it became virtually impossible for any agency other than one with broad scientific justifications to determine needs greater than the state was developing.
However, the borough was able to take advantage of the lack of a state standard regarding recreation areas, Williams said, and the borough sought and got a recreational designation boroughwide.
LaRoche cited the boroughwide recreational use designation as a significant accomplishment of the new plan.
“Although initially controversial,” she said, “it provides the primary tool to protect the watersheds of the Kenai Peninsula Borough.”
This is a good thing, Williams noted, because it gives the borough a seat at the table when it comes to certain coastal designations.
Current state standards for coastal development and access are limited to marine coastal waters and intertidal zone, but not to rivers, lakes and streams in the borough’s coastal zone, something LaRoche called a significant change from how state standards had been applied in the past.
“Absent the boroughwide recreational use designation,” she said, “the coastal zone program would have very limited authority to participate in the consistency determinations for activities in the watershed of the peninsula.”
The recreational designation created an opportunity to continue to protect the coastal zone while meeting the requirements of the state standards. Williams said the state has set the bar high, but at least the borough can write some enforceable policies locally.
Hal Spence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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