• Collaboration aims to help agencies, public cut through red tape and streamline goals
By Hannah Heimbuch
Members from no less than 19 different resource management organizations gathered in Homer in mid December, looking for ways to work together on local land and water projects.
Homer Soil and Water Conservation District hosted the working group session, which included representatives from Army Corps of Engineers, Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, Cook Inlet Keeper, Port Graham Village Council, Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Homer High Tunnel Growers — to name a few.
The diverse gathering puts people with similar concerns — be it salmon habitat, permit problems or trail access — in the same room, said Homer Water and Soil Natural Resource Specialist Matt Steffy.
When any one of these groups works on a land or water oriented project, there is a host of permitting and planning processes to wade through. Sometimes involving several different agencies.
These kinds of meetings help them work out hangups, find areas of overlap and collaborate on particular projects.
Right now there are more projects, being carried out by more people and in more locations than every before, Steffy said.
“And most of the regulatory concerns are still evolving to deal with that,” he said.
That’s where a working group is very helpful.
“We’re utilizing each others’ resources,” Steffy said. “(One) agency may have funding, another expertise.”
It gets particularly complicated when one project spans state, federal and private land — or has potential to affect those lands/waterways — or brings up sustainable access issues.
A great example of this is the Caribou Lake Trail area, Steffy said, a space that concerns many agencies and user groups around the region. Talk of doing trail restoration in the near future came up during the meeting.
A decade ago, district funding helped establish a boardwalk trail system. But with heavy use and exposure, it has begun to break down, Steffy said. When that happens, trail use tends to spread out around the defined corridor.
“So we’re starting to get a much bigger footprint out there,” Steffy said.
Many groups have a vested interest in or own lands surrounding the corridor, Steffy said, such as Alaska Native-owned Cook Inlet Region, Inc., as well as private land owners.
With so many different groups represented, he said, it was much easier to identify areas of concern and what steps will need to be taken to get that project done right.
The same goes for the King’s County Trail, a historic throughway that also came up during the open forum discussion.
“It goes from the head of the bay at the Fox River Flats, and actually that trail goes all the way up to the Russian River,” Steffy said.
The route crosses federal and state land, and involves preservation concerns related to historic mining and trapping operations, including Dena’ina subsistence trapping territory.
“So it has an even older cultural route,” Steffy said. “It represents so many different peoples’ histories and so many different lands.”
One local area under multiple-entity management is the Fox River Flats, where the Fox River Cattleman’s Association leases grazing land.
“It’s a good example of how it’s all being done sustainably right now,” Steffy said.
The association teams up with state and federal agencies to make sure grazing can happen alongside the state goals for preservation and salmon habitat protection.
“The cattleman’s association works really well with the (Natural Resource Conservation Service),” Steffy said. “(There is) still hunting, fishing, public access, and you have land that serves a bunch of different needs.”
This most recent meeting helped them look for more ways to do that, he said.
“The main focus of the conversation was really just fostering this cooperative enhanced communication way of planning projects,” Steffy said. “So we can stretch the dollar a little bit farther and get more done.”
One participating agency that’s been particularly helpful in simplifying the permitting process, Steffy said, is the Kenai River Center.
“The Kenai River Center was established to be a multi-agency, one-stop-shop for permitting and a source of professional information on natural resource restoration projects,” said KRC Coastal Zone Resource Planner Tom Dearlove.
His office is working with Homer Soil and Water to direct the public to the River Center when trying to tackle permitting for projects near streams and the 50-foot Habitat Protection District managed by the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
“One member of the public attending the meeting stated he was having difficulty in contacting all the agencies for permits,” Dearlove said. “He was not aware that the River Center has weekly staff meetings in which he could attend to discuss the project with agency staff.
This allows him to present to multi-agency staff at one setting, where changes could be made to the project if needed. It also allows him the opportunity to understand where Federal, State and Borough permitting restrictions occur.”
The working group is mandated by the 2008 Farm Bill, and continues to be a good model for collaboration, said Meg Mueller of the United States District of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service.
“This ensures that we are spending our time and funds on what are local land users’ and local land managers’ primary resource concerns,” Mueller said.
To learn more about permitting processes near stream habitat visit kenairivercenter.org.
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