Acting in the spirit of the season, the Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board on Thursday made its priorities list for the upcoming new year.
The board informally discussed several topics of concern, whittling the list of priorities down to five general areas.
Among the foremost priorities the board set was to continue to press the Alaska Legislature for passage of a KRSMA lands inclusion bill. A similar bill sponsored by former Rep. Ken Lancaster of Soldotna passed the House last session but stalled in the Senate.
The bill Lancaster proposed sought to increase the amount of state land included in the State Parks special management area by 7,938 acres. Most of the land the board would like to see included in the special management area is near Cooper Landing and Moose Pass, including areas around the Trail lakes and Trail River.
Lancaster, who is now on the KRSMA board, said he's already had discussions with representatives-elect Kelly Wolf, R-Kenai, and Paul Seaton, R-Homer, as well as Senator-elect Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, on the issue. Lancaster said he's heard favorable things from the peninsula's legislative contingent.
"There's some enthusiasm for carrying on the charge, if you will," Lancaster told the board Thursday.
"Hopefully, we'll keep moving forward on this."
In addition to the lands bill, the board set as one of its main goals the furtherance of the Kenai River guide moratorium. The board in November recommended to the commissioner of State Parks that no new fishing guide permits be issued for the Kenai River. The following day, State Parks went ahead and issued a moratorium. However, there is a lengthy appeal process involved in instituting the moratorium, and legal challenges are likely.
The board decided the issue was important enough to make a priority for the upcoming year, resolving to do anything within its means to ensure the moratorium -- and an eventual cap on the overall number of guides -- becomes a reality.
Protection of the resource also played prominently on the board's priorities list. Three major environmental areas, habitat protection, water quality and recreation use-management were listed as major areas for the board to focus attention on during 2003.
Finally, the board listed as its sixth -- but not necessarily least -- priority a desire to actively seek funding for projects deemed critical to the health and future of the Kenai River watershed.
Although the board itself does not fund individual projects, its input can go a long way toward determining which projects are funded through the Legislature. Keeping that in mind, board members decided it was important to keep pressure on the state to provide funding for Kenai River projects.
Board member Jonne Slemons said it's vital the board continue to be a strong voice in support of funding projects that can help the river. Otherwise, she said, the state could turn a deaf ear on Kenai environmental issues.
"If we do not advocate for funding, we run the risk of becoming totally ineffective," Slemons said.
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