Investing in the peninsula's economic returns

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assem-bly recently considered an amendment to a subdivision road ordinance that would have imposed higher construction standards for roadways crossing salmon streams.

The amendment did not pass, but a promise was made to address stream crossing in a separate ordinance in the coming year.

We urge the assembly and borough administration to make good on that promise.

The state departments of Fish and Game and Transportation first began studying the issue of fish passage the ability of fish to move freely throughout their habitat nearly a decade ago.

Much of the study has focused on culverts installed under roads which cross salmon streams.

The results of various surveys have been consistent and discouraging.

More than 70 percent of stream crossings on the peninsula present some sort of barrier to fish passage, effectively cutting off hundreds of miles of ideal habitat, particularly for king and silver salmon.

Fewer than 10 percent of the culverts studied by Fish and Game in 2001 were deemed adequate for fish passage.

In many cases, the culvert is inadequate. In others, Kenai Watershed Forum Director Robert Ruffner told the assembly, it is the poor construction of the road above the culvert that has led to its failure.

Healthy salmon runs should be a priority of every Kenai Peninsula resident. Salmon fuel our economy, from the commercial fishermen on Cook Inlet to the tourism industry.

Salmon are an essential part of the peninsula's ecosystem and contribute to the health of wildlife populations here.

Whether we're fishing for dinner or for pleasure or both salmon are integral to our quality of life.

Better stream crossings benefit more than salmon. Healthy wetlands and well-built stream crossings mitigate flood danger, thereby protecting private property and saving taxpayers the cost of rebuilding roads every few years.

The best way to ensure strong salmon returns in the future is to protect salmon habitat.

Any construction in, across or around the areas where returning salmon spawn and their juvenile offspring are reared must be done with the utmost sensitivity to fish habitat.

If indeed more than 70 percent of stream crossings on the peninsula pose a problem, then clearly, a rewrite of the borough's standards regarding construction of roads across salmon streams is in order.

It is an investment that promises to deliver outstanding returns.

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