By Joseph Robertia
The personal-use fisheries at the mouth of the Kasilof River have for years generated frustration among the people who call the Kasilof and Cohoe areas home, rather than a once-a-year fishing and camping destination. They are the ones who, after the 54-day set gillnet and dip-net fisheries, are left to contend with the damaged dunes and ecological habitat, improperly discarded garbage, fish waste and human excrement, and other impacts of the crowds.
Members of a group calling itself the Cohoe-Kasilof Community Council are hoping to stand up for the place they live and recreate. The group received a grant of $150,900 in the state capital budget, now awaiting Gov. Sean Parnell’s veto decisions.
“The thrust of the community council organizing is response to a perceived problem we were experiencing in the community on both sides of the river,” said council President Debbie Brown.
Anyone within the 99610 zip code — which encompasses more than 1,200 families — who is 18 years or older and is an Alaska resident can be a general member of the council, and the board of directors is made up of elected members, Brown said. Currently, in addition to Brown, George Pierce serves as the vice president, Dianne Macrae is the records manager/secretary, Bill Carlson is the treasurer, and Jack Brown and Harry Miller are members at large.
The group’s stated goal is to develop and implement an action plan to ensure responsible community, social and economic development compatible with the best interests of local residents. It supports sustainable regional projects that will improve the quality of life for residents and aims to achieve these measures by working with local, state and federal governmental entities.
Since forming in October 2010, the group has been meeting on a nearly monthly basis, including Monday night at Tustumena Elementary School, where the discussion centered around the upcoming personal-use fishing season and possible funding to provide educational community outreach, habitat protection, coordination of human waste disposal and public safety support.
The council’s $150,900 Kasilof River Safety and Habitat Protection grant proposal has been approved by the Legislature and included in the capital budget, which is being reviewed by the governor.
“We put together a proposal, a request for legislative funding, that would be a good fit for other projects already ongoing in the community,” Debbie Brown said. “If we make it through the governor’s veto we’ll go forward to see what the plan is for this year, and if we can’t implement it at this stage, we’ll go forward with it for next year.”
If the Parnell does sign off on the funding, the group plans to hire a program director who will oversee the selection of a waste-management service company for placement and maintenance of additional portable toilets and Dumpsters on both the north and south sides of the Kasilof River. This would be in augmentation to the $30,000 already allotted to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to manage fishery trash and sanitation services.
The grant proposal states that the program director would also hire and supervise 10 “community safety officers,” to be trained by Alaska State Troopers and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. According to the proposal, these uniformed community safety officers would patrol the Kasilof beach on two four-wheelers purchased with grant money to ensure personal-use fishery participants follow the rules, such as respecting a habitat protection fence being erected under a $50,000 grant submitted by the Kasilof Regional Historical Association.
“We envision these would be capable, conscientious people from the local area,” Brown said. “These folks won’t be ticketing people; they would be alerting people who could write the tickets.”
The community safety officers wouldn’t have legal authority to write citations, make arrests or otherwise enforce regulations. Instead, they would be more analogous to members of a neighborhood watch program, and would contact the appropriate enforcement agency as needed to handle public safety, traffic or fishing violations, such as individuals harvesting more fish than allowed, Brown said.
The Cohoe-Kasilof Community Council isn’t the only organization attempting to enforce regulation adherence during the personal-use fisheries. DNR is considering designating the mouth of the Kasilof as a special-use area, which would allow broader enforcement capabilities of area-specific regulations, such as being able to cite people for driving on the river mouth dune grass. This is a plan to which the council is staunchly opposed.
“This is a sizeable undertaking on the DNR to put a boundary around a certain acreage, a little less than 3,000 acres in size. Right now it is just a discussion, but a very serious and very involved discussion,” Debbie Brown said.
“DNR is unpredictable, everything with them is vague and undefined, and just because they say something now doesn’t mean it is the gospel forever,” she said. “We felt like there were Anchorage, Mat-Su and state folks coming up with decisions on how our community should be. For the sake of a fishery that lasts a few weeks, they want to change our whole lifestyle, but we want to be responsible in our own community, take part in the process and not be overrun by government.”
Word of the community council has been slow to spread. Despite meeting announcements in the Kasilof Post Office, Kasliof Mercantile and other area businesses, only a dozen people showed up for Monday’s meeting.
Brown said that anyone living in the 99610 zip code is invited to participate in the council and would have an ability to vote on its decisions. The group is awaiting the governor’s decision on funding before making more specific plans. But even if the grant is vetoed, she said it would not be the end of the idea of local residents patrolling the Kasilof beach during the fishing season.
“We’ll have a presence there this year,” she said, “with or without funding.”