Next public hearing on K-Bay Park plan is Tuesday

Jan 4, 2021

The public comment period for the Kachemak Bay State Park’s new management plan will remain open for about three more weeks, which includes two more public meetings via teleconference.
    The plan was the topic on the Coffee Table with Kathleen Gustafson.
    While it’s the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that is going to allow jet skis back in Kachemak Bay, the Division of Parks may adopt the rule as well, if it so chooses. Jack Blackwell is the state park superintendent for the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound.
    “You know, we are aware that DSG is intending to repeal those. And we'll take a look at our regulations as well. We understand this is a very contentious issue. There are folks that are really supportive of trying to open the critical habitat area in the state park waters to personal watercraft,” he said. “And we understand that people are also very concerned and like the way that the waters of Kachemak Bay have been managed for the last 20 years. So this time we're aware that the department of fish and game is relaxing, their regulations. And, you know, we're, we're aware that they're doing that and we'll be reviewing this.”
    Blackwell said he understands the concerns of local residents in regards to renewed jet ski operations.
    “I understand the concerns that people have about  this regulation remaining in intact. And there's, there's very good and valid points that people are bringing up. And I can tell you that this is a decision that the department of natural resources takes very seriously. I understand the concerns I've been you know, meeting with this advisory board since 2012 and working with the community of Homer. And I hear the concern loud and clear,” he said.
    An increase in helicopter traffic into the backcountry of the park for snow skiing or hiking had been in the draft plan, according to Blackwell and State Parks spokesperson Monica Alvarez, but was removed from the to-be-adopted version.
    “And in fact, this was one of the main issues that came up back in 2012, we received a couple of applications for helicopter skiing in the park. And those were from commercial businesses that were interested in accessing the back country for when winter skiing,” he said.” So, we received a lot of comments on it and, you know, recognized it's a pretty important issue. So. We knew that the management plan was due for revision. And so we tabled that decision pending the, the revision of the management plan.”
    “Jack's right. One of the main reasons we decided to revise the park plan was because of this, of this helicopter issue. And the department felt that state parks needed more guidance in their management plan. So throughout the process, we kind of evaluated the issue in terms of the heliskiing aspect of it,” Alvarez said. “And we did float an alternative in the public review draft that we put out in 2018, where we would have a competitive offering for one operator in the Tutka Bay Unit for the purposes of heliskiing after the public comment period. And a lot of the input we received in addition to concerns related to goats, that fishing game raised, we decided to drop that in this version of the plan and just limit helicopter use to the summer months, only in one area of the park.”
    That area of the park is Grewingk Glacier.
    And while helicopter rides are acceptable in the park, harvesting salmon roe for hatchery stock in Tutka Bay has been deemed an incompatible use.
    “When we started this process, you know, back in 2012, and in 13, we started researching various aspects and issues and right around the same time, there was a Supreme Court decision, the SOP versus the state of Alaska,” she said. “There was a ruling that essentially stated that the state had to be very cautious about issuing permits that could be considered an easement, which would be an inconsistent disposal of lands.”
    There is another well-known local entity in addition to Cook Inlet Aquaculture which operates inside the park boundaries, and that’s Homer Electric Association which runs power lines through the park.
    “Obviously Homer Electric has a power line utility easement in the park, but that predates the park. And so there's similar issues that we work with Homer Electric to make sure that we're staying within that easement and not straying out outside of it. But this is probably the main issue that's come to light,” Blackwell said.
    The next public hearing on the Kachemak Bay State Park draft management plan is on Tuesday (Jan. 5), in two sessions, noon to 2 p.m. and from 5 to 7 p.m.