Kasilof SUA plan panned: Group petitions state to slow process

Posted: Friday, December 10, 2010

A group of concerned Kasilof residents have banded together to ask the state to slow down its process for the plan to create a special use area near the mouth of the Kasilof River.

The Cohoe-Kasilof Community Council met Wednesday to gather signatures for a petition to the state Department of Natural Resources, Division of Mining, Land and Water, that is overseeing the Kasilof designation process as a way to address impacts of intense use near the river mouth each summer during the personal-use fisheries. The public comment period of the designation process closes today.

"We got a little over 200 signatures," said George Pierce, a Kasilof resident who's heading up the community council.

The signatures are strictly from people in the Kasilof community but the next step is to gather signatures form all around the Peninsula, he said.

"There's just too many holes, unanswered questions we're skeptical about," Pierce added.

He said he sent the petition in Thursday as a way to try and get those questions answered.

The department's draft proposal for the special use area includes 2,965 acres of mostly state-owned land that encompass tidal and submerged lands. The boundaries would reach approximately four river miles upstream from the mouth and extend a mile north and south along the coast from the outlet, as well as west a ways into Cook Inlet.

The deadline for the public comment period on this proposed area closes today at 5 p.m. The comment period, which opened Sept. 30, was extended for an additional 25 days, in part to allow for a public meeting in Wasilla.

Following the close of the comment period today, the department will analyze and respond to the issues raised, after which it will issue a final special use decision that is subject to appeal.

Pierce said the community council is poised to appeal the Kasilof River special use area if it is designated as proposed.

"We're not saying, no let the dunes get trashed, we're saying let's fix them with a cheaper, and different approach," he said. "There's not a single person that disagrees they need to do something with the dunes."

As a part of this special use area the Department of Natural Resources is proposing services, like outhouses and Dumpsters, to support the personal-use fisheries and fees to cover costs related to the state providing those services. Those are the parts of the plan that the Cohoe-Kasilof Community Council is against.

"We live here," Pierce said. "We don't want to be charged to use our beach."

He said the initial proposal from the Kasilof Historical Society of temporary fencing around the dunes earlier this year was something that many Kasilof residents supported. But when the Department of Natural resources became involved, Pierce said, the area that needed to be protected escalated from some 300 acres to 3,000 acres.

"How come they don't ever explain why they need so much land? It's just like a land grab here. Why is it so hurried?" he asked. "Why does this have to go right this second? It just seems like its pushing it on us so much."

The council's petition is to stop it from becoming a state park, he said.

"Something needs to be done to protect the dunes but this isn't the solution," Pierce said.

Terry Cowart, another resident of Kasilof active in the Cohoe-Kasilof Community Council, said the department has not conducted any studies to justify the reasoning of the special use area's designation.

"They don't call it a park but it is a park," he said.

The proposal talks about the potential creation of an area management staff, public restrooms, campgrounds, and a boat launch but it is not specific enough for Cowart's liking.

The department has the "ability to put in any regulations they want," he said.

"The fact they have not come out and said what they want to do, they're strictly shooting for the hip, putting the cart before the horse," Cowart said. "I don't want a state park in front of my house unless I know what they're going to do with it."

He said it's hypocritical of the state to want to designate something without doing the proper research.

"Nobody would be allowed to do that to them," Cowart said. "Right now all these locals hate government because they really have ignored a lot of these questions Most people don't understand what's going on."

Cowart said he was also disappointed with the way the state was handling the process and disenfranchising locals by not taking the time to work with the immediate residents of the area.

Officials from the Department of Natural Resources did not return calls Thursday seeking comments on these statements.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly unanimously passed a resolution at its meeting Tuesday supporting the establishment of the Kasilof River special use area provided that the Department of Natural Resources place the proposed boat launch away from the existing boat harbor there to minimize competition for access to that area as well as taking into account local residents' needs in terms of any fees and access.

"I hear government is bad," said borough assemblyman Brent Johnson, of Kasilof, who was heavily involved with the Kasilof Historical Society's efforts to put up a fence around the dunes. "We look at problems and solve them. I don't think that's bad."

The proposed special use area around near the mouth of the Kasilof includes some borough-owned land, which state officials said would not be affected.

"Beyond any doubt this is one of the major issues brought to my office throughout two summers," said Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey. "I see this resolution of supporting this problem and very much keeping with the needs of the borough. This is the best option that has been presented. As compared to doing nothing, this is awesome."

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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