Council OKs new beach policy

In a new beach policy action most everyone called a compromise, at its regular meeting on Monday, the Homer City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that would restrict driving on Bishop’s Beach. Ordinance 16-05(s), introduced by council member Catriona Reynolds, made these changes:

• Define beach and berm areas and ban parking and driving on beach areas except where exempted;

• Establish fines from $25 to $500 for driving in restricted areas;

• Allow the use of motorized vehicles west of the Bishop’s Beach parking lot and ban driving on the berm in front of Beluga Slough east of the parking lot;

• Ban motorized vehicles on the Homer Spit, including Mariner Park, and

• Ban motorized vehicles east of a vacated easement near the Bay Club on Kachemak Drive.

The ordinance would have taken effect on Tuesday, but at the end of the meeting, council member David Lewis asked for reconsideration. Lewis reacted to complaints by several coal pickers who had asked that coaling be allowed in the winter at Mariner Park.

A substitute for an ordinance introduced at the Jan. 25 council meeting, the main change was to restrict motorized vehicle use in Mud Bay at the bottom of the Airport Access Road, a gravel road going down to the beach from Kachemak Drive by the old airport. Many beach walkers use that road to park on the beach and go out to the Mud Bay Spit, a popular birding spot. Some drivers go out into swampy areas.

“Frequently I hear the sound of racing vehicles and I know someone is down there in the mud,” said Jessica Shepherd, acting director of the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, whose office is above Mud Bay near the road.

The new version set a boundary east of the access road at a line from the vacated easement formerly known as Shirlene Circle south to the beach.

Most testimony favored the new driving restrictions. Coal pickers who last fall had protested a more restrictive beach driving ordinance spoke in favor of the revised restrictions at Bishop’s Beach. Gathering coal for cheap heating fuel has been a decades-long tradition in Homer. Reynolds pulled her first attempt last fall and had said then she would introduce a new version in 2016.

“There is no easy way to make everybody happy,” said Alex Weber. He felt the area by Beluga Slough should be closed.

Alaska National Maritime Wildlife Refuge Manager Steve Delehanty thanked the council for working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help protect federal land east of the Bishop’s Beach parking lot. 

“We have long sought partnership with the city in protecting the Bishop’s Beach and Beluga Slough area,” he said.

Fish and Wildlife has set aside $5,000 to help make signs and interpretive materials and put up physical barriers, he said.

One of the more impassioned testimonies in support of the driving restrictions came from Homer High School student Nolan Bunting, a young birder. He said the restrictions would protect the environment, especially migratory bird habitat. Who is the ordinance for? he asked.

“It is for the people beyond me, the next generation, the next generation beyond those,” Bunting said. “We have the moral obligation to protect our beaches and protect our environment, and protect the future generations who are beyond the people in this room.”

Some coalers wanted to keep access to the Spit at Mariner Park.

“I’m a beach user. That’s why I go to Mariner Park to coal pick. I don’t want to deal with what’s happening with Bishop’s Beach,” said Scott Adams. “I like it because it’s more peaceful. To close off that whole area is not respectful to the people who know how to treat the beaches.”

Adams said driving to get coal is easier on the more gentle, less rocky Mariner Park beach. He said he thought a deal had been made last fall to allow October-March driving to get coal.

Lewis said he spends a lot of time at Mariner Park, too, and notices many coalers walking to the beach.

“You don’t have to walk far to fill your buckets with coal. Just a walk down, the coal is there,” he said. “You can have as many buckets as you want.”

Council member Gus VanDyke tried to make an amendment to allow limited coal picking on the Spit, but that didn’t get a second. 

Reynolds said that given not everyone was happy with the driving restrictions meant it was acceptable.

“Mediators say that if everyone thinks it’s a bad deal and they’re not getting what they want, it’s a compromise,” she said. “I was hoping to find something that didn’t please anyone. It’s kind of in the middle.”

That approach worked, at least initially. With no objection, the council passed it 6-0. With Lewis’ motion for reconsideration, the ordinance goes back on the table. The council will vote to reconsider, and if that motion passes, it goes back for more discussion, possible amendments, and another vote. The council will look at the ordinance at its next meeting on Feb. 22 in the Cowles Council Chambers, Homer City Hall.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at