Hoping to get as much input as possible from the boating community, the Kenai City Council allowed public comment when a proposal aimed at cleaning up the Kenai River was introduced Wednesday.
Customarily, public hearings are scheduled for the council meeting two weeks after an ordinance is introduced.
Council member Joe Moore said it was his intention to get the ordinance introduced and allow for as much public comment as needed to insure the city takes the correct action in reducing hydrocarbon pollution from the river.
The city’s ordinance, which would limit use of the Kenai city boat launch to vessels with four-stroke or direct-injection two-stroke engines, mimics a state proposal banning all two-stroke engines, except those with direct fuel injection, from Kenai River waters within the Kenai River Special Management Area.
The Department of Natural Resources rule would go into effect Jan. 1, 2008. The city restriction would take effect May 1, 2007.
Both proposals are in response to a Department of Environmental Conservation report showing levels of hydrocarbons emitted from motorboats exceeded the 10 parts per billion limit a number of times during the month of July in nearly every year dating back to 1991. Because the limits were ex-ceeded re-peatedly, DEC is considering listing the Kenai River as a Category 5 impaired body of water.
“After our last (city council) meeting, we heard from the DEC that it could take five years for them to act,” Moore said Wednesday.
Soldotna resident George Parks told the council that many people who use the Kenai River cannot afford to replace their two-stroke engines with expensive four-strokes.
“If we’re really gonna protect the river, let’s go all the way to drift only,” Parks said.
He said he works on numerous boat engines, and if four-stroke engines are not properly tuned, “they can be more dirty than two-strokes.”
Parks also asked the council to give people more time to make the switch to four-stroke engines.
“Don’t make it 1 May 2007,” he said.
Paul Shadura, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, which represents setnet fishermen, commended the council for taking the proactive approach, and encouraged the city to contact Alaska’s Board of Fish.
Shadura also said he would like to see the city make an exception to its boat launch restriction for boaters “transiting and transporting.”
Responding to a question from council member Barry Eldridge, Shadura said only about 10 percent of setnetters’ skiffs have four-cycle engines.
“I personally have some 30, 35 motors in my mix,” Shadura said. “One is four-stroke.”
Kenai attorney Jim Butler, a former Kenai council member, said the proposed ordinance needs additional language stating more reasons why the issue is so important to the city, and it should address means of enforcing the boat restriction.
He also suggested the city consider possibly charging a fee for people who want to continue using two-stroke engines because they cannot afford to buy a new four-stroke engine.
“Pollution tax credits are a big thing (in industrial applications),” Butler said. “They could work on the local level.”
Kenai Watershed Forum Executive Director Robert Ruffner, who earlier told the council his group has evidence that 600 gallons of raw gasoline go into the river every July day sportfishing boats are allowed, thanked the council for “taking the first step by putting forward something to talk about.”
Following a half-hour of public testimony, the council voted unanimously to introduce its proposed restriction on types of motors on vessels being launched at the Kenai boat ramp.
Another public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for Dec. 20.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek @peninsulaclarion.com.
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