Assembly OKs salmon habitat protections

Two attempts to derail the inevitable and affirmative vote for borough-wide riparian regulations were thwarted last week as the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted 6 -3 to enact the broader protective regulations over local waters.

With the vote, the assembly largely agreed that some form of proactive protection of salmon rearing waters was needed now, while most of the runs are still healthy. 

Ordinance 2013-18 revises a 2011 law, which was never enacted on the east side of Cook Inlet, reducing its reach by broadening regulations to grandfather existing land uses and opening permitting concepts for future development within the 50-foot buffer zones around waterways known to rear salmon.

The vote came at 8:43 p.m. following 11th-hour attempts to delay the vote, reopen public comment and create a sunset clause that could have ended the law 18 months after going into effect. 

Though all who wished to speak at the June 18th meeting did so, District 5 Assemblyman Charlie Pierce proposed reopening public comment, following a two-week delay for advertisement of the reopening. Pierce said that he hoped for a “compelling story” to emerge that might change the minds of assembly members preparing to vote 2013-18 into law. 

Supporting Pierce, District 1 Assemblymen Kelly Wolf said the anadromous streams ordinance was the largest issue the borough has ever faced and thus deserved to be reopened to public comment.

“This issue is so large,” he said.

Had the delay come, the borough would have mailed notices of a public hearing to all affected landowners at the cost of $2,000. Lack of proper notice was a primary criticism of the 2011 law.

That amendment was struck down with only Wolf and Pierce supporting it, as the pair continued to declare that over fishing is a bigger and real problem than habitat degradation than poor stewardship by landowners.

“I hope they close the dipnetters, the drifters and the setnetters,” Pierce said.

With the possibility of further delay out of the picture, Wolf introduced a sunset clause that would have killed the law in July 2015 without another affirming vote of the assembly. 

“(It’s) extremely powerful legislation … in 2015 if this is working this body will vote to reinstate,” Wolf said. That amendment also failed.

Noticeably different from the previous meeting was the small number of public present in the chambers for the vote. On the evening of July 2, they were as scarce as kings in the Kenai. 

During assembly comment prior to the vote, several assembly members snipped at those from Washington state and Oregon who pleaded during the June 18 meeting that the borough not wait until it’s too late, as was done with Pacific Northwest and California wild salmon runs.

Others simply supported the law.

Pierce said that perhaps the borough’s Anadromous Streams Taskforce would have been better served had no scientists or fisherman been involved. 

“Without exception science comes down on the side of protection of habitat,” countered District 7 assemblyman and commercial fisherman Brent Johnson. “I’m going to err on the side of science every time I can.”

District 8 Assemblyman Bill Smith described Ordinance 2013-18 as a “balanced compromise.” 

“You know I’m going to vote for it,” said District 9 assemblyman Mako Haggerty.  “The science is in, there is a riparian zone … and we should protect it.” 

Talking to voters listening in from home, Pierce encouraged them to vote out the six assembly members voting to enact 2013-18 as their seats come up for election. If the voter stays home, stays on the couch and ignores the issue “you get what you deserve,” Pierce said.