By Bill Smith
“Anadromous Fish” means a fish or fish species that spends portions of its life cycle in both fresh and salt waters, entering fresh water from the sea to spawn.
Chris Story’s assertion that anadromous fish habitat protections by Alaska Fish and Game and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers means that protections are adequate is simply not in alignment with the facts: the Borough does not duplicate the regulations of these agencies, it complements them.
Fish and Game only regulates in the water up to ordinary high water, the Kenai Peninsula Borough only regulates above ordinary high water. The Corps regulates the waters — including wetlands. Where wetlands are adjacent to streams, the Corps will permit infilling and development which would be subject to Borough protections for vegetation and bank erosion.
The Borough regulations are not scheduled to take effect until Aug. 1, 2013, but land owners, including those adjacent to Caribou Lake, were notified in May of 2012.
The City of Kenai did not organize a campaign. What the City of Kenai did was write a letter notifying the owners of 191 properties in the City of Kenai of the impending passage of 2011-12 and inviting them to a meeting at Kenai City Hall. Two or three property owners came to the meeting and no one I know of in that group wrote letters of protest to the Borough.
Notwithstanding statements by a few realtors, there has been no demonstrated impact to the value of properties which have been regulated for the last 12 to 15 years, so I am skeptical of assertions about negative impacts to property values for newly regulated areas. I asked Mr. Chris Story to tell me his observations of impacts to southern peninsula real estate adjacent to streams protected since the year 2000. These streams include Deep Creek, the Ninilchik River, North and South forks of the Anchor and Fox rivers. He has not replied.
Is the Borough anadromous fish habitat protection ordinance a necessary ordinance? The east coast of America no longer has natural runs of salmon. The west cost of the U.S. has devastated the native salmon runs. There is never just one cause for decline of salmon stocks; death comes from a thousand cuts. Each life stage of salmon is important for survival, and habitat destruction by hundreds of small actions is a leading cause of decline.
The reason we need habitat protection now is that protection must be done before degradation takes place. It is too expensive, or not even possible, to put back destroyed habitat. It is much more practical to apply protection before something is degraded. It is also little to no expense to property owners to respect certain construction limits when they are known in advance. In fact, tax credits are available to owners who build in appropriately. There has been no demonstrable impact to property values due to borough stream protection regulations. Existing uses are not restricted and can continue just as they are now.
Salmon is a hugely important part of the life blood of the Kenai Peninsula Borough. Salmon fuels our bodies, our sport fishing and tourist industry and our commercial fishing industry. Salmon form a core part of our community identity and our cultural heritage. Without salmon we are not the Kenai, we are not Alaska.
Bill Smith is a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assemblyman representing the lower Kenai Peninsula.
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