Vehicles are parked along Bishop’s Beach to Beluga Slough.-Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News

Vehicles are parked along Bishop’s Beach to Beluga Slough.-Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News

Commission wrapping up beach policy suggestions

Whether it’s dog poop, loose dogs, birds, driftwood, bonfires, coal picking and off-road cruising, since last fall the Homer Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission has been meeting almost every two weeks and contemplating those issues. At 5:30 p.m. today and a final meeting at 5:30 p.m. May 4, the seven members will take final testimony and come up with recommendations on how to better regulate one of the most loved parts of Homer — our beaches.

Most of the focus has been on Bishop’s Beach, the most popular beach in town and one widely considered our local beach. The commission also has looked at beaches like Mariner Park on the Homer Spit. It has invited officials like Homer Police Chief Mark Robl, veterinarian Dr. Ralph Broshes, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service representatives and even heard a presentation by Homer High School teenagers.

At each meeting a half-dozen people have testified, with as many sending in written comments. The commission has heard from birders, dog walkers, coal pickers, pioneer residents, seniors, property owners and surfers.

“I really like this process,” said commissioner Trish Lillibridge at its most recent meeting on April 2. “I think we’re meeting often enough. We have the expertise and the history here.”

The push to review Homer’s beach policy and come up with better ways to manage the beaches came about after the Old Town Neighborhood Association, a coalition of residents and business owners, held a meeting last October to share concerns about Bishop’s Beach. 

Members told of problems with illegal camping, late-night partying, loud trucks and speeding, trash and drug dealing.

To date, the commission has made these recommendations:

• Ask the city to purchase more dog-poop bag dispensers and place them at public buildings and along trails;

• Ask the city to partner with other organizations to educate dog owners on responsible pet ownership;

• Designate as leash-only areas Mud Bay, Mariner Park Slough, Mariner Park and the beach in front of it, and the beach between the Bishop’s Beach parking lot and the mouth of Beluga Slough;

• Designate as leash-only from March 1-Oct. 31 the beach from Mariner Park to Beluga Slough;

• Prohibit all pets around Beluga Slough to the berm area;

• Ask the city to install fire pits at Bishop’s Beach Park, on city land on the beach below Main Street and on the beach below the end of Crittenden Street;

• Improve beach signage;

• Add Bishop’s Beach and Beluga Slough to the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network;

• Draft an ordinance to define and ban reckless driving at it applies to all beaches, and

• Consider several options for closing the beach to vehicles.

Of ideas on the table, regulating driving on the beaches has drawn the most testimony. 

Many have complained of increased driving and parking on the east end of Bishop’s Beach — where a sign at the parking lot designates as “pedestrian use” and that an earlier Beach Policy Task Force thought could be regulated through a policy of cooperation and not coercion.

That didn’t work out.

The commission has put forth three ideas for regulating vehicle use:

• Ban vehicles east of the Bishop’s Beach parking lot to the slough;

• Ban vehicles between Bishop’s Beach and Mariner Park in the summer, and

• Ban vehicles east of Bishop’s Beach parking lot to the end of the Spit in the summer.

A hard packed trail runs on the Kachemak Bay side of a built-up storm berm in front of Beluga Slough — land mostly owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service down to the mean high-tide of 17.4 feet. 

On a recent sunny evening, about 20 cars and trucks had parked on the outer berm. Some drivers pulled out beach chairs to enjoy the sun. Some are surfers or kayakers trying to get closer to good waves. Some are elderly who can’t get around well and like to park in cars and watch grandchildren play.

Others are drug dealers or drug users. Teenagers who did a beach clean-up told of collecting a bucket of used hypodermic needles. Andy Haas, a criminal defense lawyer, told the commission at its April 2 meeting that he could show them where drugs are being sold on the beach.

“Probably the number one thing you can do to restrict that is the cars on the beach,” Haas said of drug use. “That’s where it’s going on.”

In Mud Bay, Mariner Park Slough, the west side of the Homer Spit, and from the beach on the bay side in front of the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon to the end of the Spit, driving already is prohibited. 

Public testimony and letters has been the fiercest on proposals to restrict beach driving. Raymond Arno, a Homer resident for more than 50 years, wrote that his wife can’t walk and they enjoy watching grandchildren play.

“If you ban autos from this beach you are banning us and many others from the one of the most enjoyable practices of our lives in Homer,” Arno wrote.

Louise Ashmun wrote that her preferred policy would be to ban all vehicles on beaches, but that she would recommend making the east beach pedestrian only and dogs should be on leashes.

“Pedestrians should have one stretch of beach free from traffic concerns, engine noise and smells, and overly friendly or aggressive dogs,” she wrote.

Ken Harrington made a pitch for keeping beaches open for coal gathering.

“Coal is a blessing for me and others. It keeps me warm and can be a fun and healthy way to exercise,” he wrote.

One challenge with regulating beach use is that many of the areas people like to drive and park also happen to be above the 17.4 foot mean-high tide, a fact commission chairperson Matt Steffy noted when a proposal came up to ban all driving except by permit on the beach from Crittenden Drive to the parking lot, an area designated Area 8A and 8B. 

“I’m hung up on the fact that 90-percent of the recreators are recreating on private land, and the city is providing them access to that,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest stumbling blocks for me on Bishop’s Beach.”

Commissioner Dave Brann showed the commission a photo he took on a recent 17.4 high tide that shows cars parked above the tide line. 

Some landowners like the Vann family have protected their beach property with driftwood and boulder borders. Where people have been prohibited from using private property, vegetation has recovered.

Commissioner Deb Lowney made a motion to recommend closing the Area 8A and 8B beach to vehicles except by permit, but that motion failed. The discussion gave a clue as to how the commission was being cautious in making recommendations some members didn’t think would fly with the city council.

Lowney said she introduced her motion in response to Haas’ testimony about drug use.

“We have a responsibility to take a stab at preventing this behavior from happening,” she said.

Commissioner Robert Archibald said there could be legal concerns with totally closing the beach. Some users could argue there’s a prescriptive easement.

“We have to have access or someone is going to take us to court,” he said.

Commissioner Roger MacCampbell said he couldn’t support a total closure.

“I think we’ve heard overwhelmingly that we have some access,” he said. “If you took this to a vote of the community, I don’t think it would pass.”

Steffy said he agreed with Archibald and MacCampbell and should work toward a compromise. People advocating against vehicle use aren’t saying close it entirely, “Just keep this area for us,” he said, referring to proposed pedestrian-only areas.

“I think we’re taking baby steps,” Archibald said about the commission’s approach. “I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I want to get some good success here with what we’re doing with the berms.”

The commission wraps up its work at the May 4 meeting, and will forward its recommendations to the council for further consideration.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.


Homer Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission

 

Upcoming meetings:

5:30 p.m. Today

5:30 p.m. May 4

Cowles Council Chambers, City Hall

 

Beach policy recommendations

Note: all recommendations will go to the Homer City Council for consideration and possible approval

Approved and recommended: 

• Designate as leash-only areas Mud Bay, Mariner Park Slough, Mariner Park and the beach in front of it, and the beach between the Bishop’s Beach parking lot and the mouth of Beluga Slough

• Designate as leash-only from March 1-Oct. 31 the beach from Mariner Park to Beluga Slough;

• Prohibit all pets around BelugaSlough to the berm area

• Improve beach signage 

• Draft an ordinance to define and ban reckless driving at it applies to all beaches

Proposed, not yet approved or recommended:

• Ban vehicles east of the Bishop’s Beach parking lot to the slough 

• Ban vehicles between Bishop’s Beach and Mariner Park in the summer, and

• Ban vehicles east of Bishop’s Beach parking lot to the end of the Spit in the summer.


A person drives a truck through tidepools at Bishop’s Beach.-Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News

A person drives a truck through tidepools at Bishop’s Beach.-Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News

A man sits on a log at Bishop’s Beach on April 3. Nothing in the beach policy recommendations would prohibit this.-Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News

A man sits on a log at Bishop’s Beach on April 3. Nothing in the beach policy recommendations would prohibit this.-Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News

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