Man sues over disabled parking at fishing spot

Posted: Tuesday, January 18, 2005

KENAI - A Soldotna man has filed a complaint against the city, saying the lone "handicap only" fishing spot in town is discriminatory because it's not properly patrolled.

John Smallwood filed his complaint with the Alaska Commission for Human Rights.

In the claim filed Dec. 28, Smallwood said the city of Soldotna has "failed to maintain appropriate signs and adequately patrol the handicap ramp at Centennial Park," and that he and others with impaired mobility and physical disabilities are unable to fish there.

Smallwood uses a wheelchair and sometimes a cane due to several medical conditions. He said the signs in the area are in strict violation of Americans with Disabilities Act laws.

"They think they are immune to the laws," he said. "I say this is not following with human rights because the city won't maintain it, they don't enforce the handicap rules like they should."

Smallwood, who no longer fishes, said he regularly calls various departments of law enforcement to the area.

"I've had four or five park rangers go down there and run people out," he said. "I've had the state troopers out here half a dozen times at least."

City manager Tom Boedeker said it would be a shame to lose the handicap fishing area. Other sites in town are handicap accessible but not limited to disabled people. Boedeker said these zones operate just like anywhere else in fishing season - on a first come, first-served basis.

Boedeker said the complaints have had their price and potential maintenance would be of substantial cost to the city.

"What Smallwood wants is for us to hire people to patrol the area," he said. "Well, that park is open for a lot of hours during the summer season, so for 12 hours a day and paying $9 per hour, I imagine it would cost us between $4,500 and $5,000 per month to staff. This is a significant expense, and the city has to ask itself if it has the resources to handle those costs."

The human rights commission said it could not comment on the complaint at this time.

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