Kasilof special use plan blasted

Several organizations and activists are voicing opposition to the Department of Natural Resources Division of Mining, Land and Water plan to build a parking lot near the mouth of the Kasilof River.

The department, which manages the Kasilof River Special Use Area, proposed a development plan in late October that includes two parking lots on the north side of the river mouth. The parking lots together would accommodate 315 vehicles, a footprint some conservationists are saying is too large and could infringe on wildlife.

The Kasilof Regional Historical Association, the Kenai Area Fishermen’s Coalition, the Kachemak Bay Birders, the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, the Conservation Fund’s Alaska chapter and several individuals sent in letters opposing the plan. Most were concerned about the parking lots’ effect on migrating bird habitats and the potential repercussions of drawing more dipnetters from the crowded Kenai River mouth to the Kasilof River.

Catherine Cassidy, a Kasilof resident and member of the Kasilof Regional Historical Association board, has been heading up some of the conservation efforts near the mouth of the Kasilof since 2010, when the location was designated a special use area. When the Division of Mining, Land and Water originally proposed the special use area, the community was concerned about a more significant governmental role near the river mouth, but some of the local activists supported it to protect the uplands from further degradation.

The historical society and several community members worked with the DNR to put up a permanent fence on the south side of the river mouth to protect the sand dunes, which were being damaged by foot traffic, Cassidy said. However, on the north side, the Division of Mining, Land and Water asked for a temporary fence until a development plan was finished.

“We were just shocked when that site plan came out and they had that parking area shown,” Cassidy said. “It’s much more expansive than the existing disturbed uplands, and it’s inappropriate for all the reasons that are listed in all the comments. It never occurred to local people that they would try to turn the whole area into a parking lot.”

In her comments to the Division of Mining, Land and Water, Cassidy said the department had “betrayed the trust of local people and organizations who believed you would manage the state-owned land in the Kasilof River estuary to protect all of its various natural resource values.”

She called for the site plan to be scaled back, limiting parking to the already disturbed upland areas. She said because the Kasilof River has no entry fee for the personal-use dipnet fishery, unlike the Kenai River, many people will be drawn to the Kasilof River, where there is not as much infrastructure to accommodate them. The Kenai River may serve as a good example for how to control overuse of the dipnet fishery on the Kasilof, she said.

“People used to park on the sides of the road near the Kenai city dock, and now they have no parking signs there,” Cassidy said. “We don’t have to reinvent this wheel.”

Tracy Miller, president of the Kasilof Regional Historical Society, wrote in the organization’s letter that installing spaces for 315 vehicles could induce demand because there are no fees at the Kasilof River. Miller also voiced frustration that the management plan for the special use area has not materialized.

When the Division of Mining, Land and Water officially formed the Kasilof River Special Use Area in 2010, the agency declared intentions of forming a management plan to enforce the regulations in the area. To develop the management plan, the state Legislature would have to approve it and the Alaska Supreme Court would have to institute a Bail Forfeiture Schedule. However, that has yet to appear.

The Kachemak Bay Birders submitted records of bird migration patterns, saying migrating birds use the whole dune area for nesting as well as a stopover during flights. George Matz, who compiles the shorebird report for the organization, wrote in the letter to the DNR that 22 species of shorebirds have been identified at the mouth of the Kasilof and do not always necessarily stop in wetlands.

Building a parking lot with a large footprint could affect their year-round activity, Matz wrote.

“Shorebirds are selective in where they choose to stop over,” Matz wrote. “Loss of habitat at these select sites could contribute to the ongoing loss of shorebird populations.”

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, who represents the southern peninsula in the Legislature, also submitted a comment with his concerns about the project. He wrote that he had received enough constituent letters related to the issue that he asked the Division of Mining, Land and Water to delay the plan to allow for public forum and comment.

Seaton wrote that the lack of sanitation facilities and increased pressure on the wetlands, dunes and wildlife could raise a problem. The site plan does include seasonal temporary toilets.

“I understand DMLW has no funds available to address these annual impacts,” Seaton wrote. “With the state’s fiscal deficit, it seems unrealistic that DMLW will have the ability to address these enforcement and maintenance funding needs in the near future.”

Elizabeth Earl is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. She can be reached at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.