Charges against tractor launch operator could affect Anchor Point business

A charge against a tractor launch operation for disturbance of natural objects on Alaska State Park land at the Anchor Point beach has thrown into disarray a service residents say is essential to the survival of the lower Kenai Peninsula town’s tourist economy.

On July 17, Todd Bareman, 49, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in Homer District Court to one count of disturbance of natural objects. For eight years, Bareman, owner of Anchor Point Enterprise, has run the Anchor Point tractor launch, an enterprise that puts in and takes out sport fishing boats from Cook Inlet near the mouth of the Anchor River.

In an affidavit, Alaska State Park Ranger Jason Okuly wrote that Bareman disturbed an area of the beach about 300 feet long and 50 feet wide. Storm berm vegetation was removed or buried, the storm berm was altered and beach gravel pushed into the Anchor River estuary. Okuly said State Parks issued two written notices of violation requesting voluntary compliance, but that Bareman did not comply. Okuly filed his complaint on June 29.

In a June 19 email Bareman provided to the Homer News that he also sent to Jack Blackwell, Alaska State Park Superintendent of the Kenai-Kodiak region, Bareman disputes those allegations. He wrote that he dug out rocks from a small slough and packed stumps along that estuary that had washed out from earlier storms. Grass has regrown there. Bareman also said Blackwell and other park officials didn’t show up for a meeting in April he had set up to discuss work he did.

“The area I’m going to be given tickets for is stable, regrowing, and in better condition to withstand storm surges and the extra wave energy created from the parking lot than it ever has been,” Bareman wrote.

In an interview, Blackwell said he could not comment on the charges.

On July 5, the Homer News met Bareman, Anchor Point Chamber of Commerce President Bill Scott, and local residents Lynn Whitmore and Nona Safra at the Anchor Point Veterans of Foreign Wars where they were discussing the tractor launch issue.

Bareman runs the tractor launch under a competitive park use permit. Using tractors that tow boats and trailers into the Cook Inlet surf, he launches between 20 and 60 boats a day, about half of them sportfishing charters and most of them halibut trips. Fishermen launch at Anchor Point and a similar launch at Deep Creek because they’re closer to Cook Inlet. The Cook Inlet launch sites also relieve pressure on the Homer Harbor.

“No way Homer could handle the Ninilchik and Anchor Point launches,” Scott said.

Charter trips cost from $275 to $325, and fishermen bring in tourist dollars that support grocery stores, lodges, hotels, private and public campgrounds, bars, tackle shops and other businesses.

“Every single business in town is affected,” Scott said.

Whitmore put it more bluntly in conversations with officials.

“I told them, ‘Don’t kill Todd.’ Killing him, killing his business would be a disaster,” Whitmore said.

Safra said she recognized the need to protect the environment.

“We want to be good stewards of that land,” she said.

Blackwell said the state understands the importance of the tractor launch.

“One thing I can say is that Alaska State Parks recognizes how vital the tractor boat launch service is to the local community,” he said. “It provides Alaska residents and visitors access to Cook Inlet that’s very important.”

In the work the state alleges was illegal and Bareman claims was not, he sought to address an issue with the tractor launch: where to park the boat trailers, trucks and cars associated with the operation. Storm erosion over the past decade has cut parking spaces at the state, fee-supported lot at the end of the Anchor Beach Road. Bareman’s work added about a dozen spaces on the beach to park boat trailers.

He said the state wanted him to move the parking space for the trailers out of the vegetation area. That would push the tongues and fronts of the trailers into a packed gravel road that runs along the beach, blocking off access to the beach to the north. Visitors drive along the beach to picnic or to park outside of the limited fee-area parking. Continual traffic along the beach has compacted sand and gravel, and driving around the trailers would put vehicles into looser sand. Bareman said parking the trailers closer to the ocean would put them into salt water at high tide.

“There’s a fair amount of use and activity,” Blackwell said of the beach road. “We’ve got the tractor launch. We’ve got folks driving through here to access the beach. There’s folks who drive down to the beach and walk along the waterfront. … Space is very limited.”

Blackwell conceded the state needs to develop a long-term plan at the lower river “that takes a comprehensive look at the use patterns as well as habitat protection,” he said.

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities work on the Anchor Point Beach Road added a shoulder that people use for parking near the beach. Bareman said he would like to stripe that area for diagonal parking to maximize parking but hasn’t gotten the approval to do that.

The state also will be doing coastal erosion repairs later this summer that could stabilize the beach and perhaps provide better parking.

Anchor Point citizens hope to have conversations with state officials on how to keep the tractor launch going.

“We want to work with State Parks,” Safra said. “We want to work with Todd. Our community depends on the fishing and the tractor launch.”

Whitmore said that in tight economic times for the state, helping local businesses in small town should be encouraged.

“If the governor’s administration and the Republican Party want the communities to be self-sustainable, this is not the way to do this,” he said.

Anchor Point residents hope they can meet with officials to resolve the parking and other issues.

“I would extend an invitation from the chamber to the parties in this,” Scott said.

Safra is a solid Republican and chair of the District 31 Republican Party. Whitmore is a longtime conservationist. Safra noted how people from different political perspectives share a common interest in maintaining the tractor launch.

“In this we’re all sitting here at the same table,” she said.

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