Groups finalize wetlands agreement

Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2005

ANCHORAGE - Two conservation groups are finalizing an arrangement that would protect private beach and estuary land at the mouth of the Anchor River, where hordes gather every salmon season.

Previous efforts by the private owners to police the area always ended in failure. Efforts to sell the land to the state were no more successful.

Last year, owners of the two parcels took steps to subdivide the land. Kenai Peninsula Borough officials balked, noting that most of the property was high-value wetlands, where salmon smolt gather and migratory birds stop. Such wetlands did not lend themselves to construction of recreational homes.

The property owners said their main goal continued to be to put the land in public ownership.

"I've always said that from Day One," said Lacy Brunetti, whose husband, Paul Mutch, inherited the family homestead on the beach.

This summer, a new set of land appraisals has resulted in a signed purchase and sales agreement for the 46-acre Mutch property with the Nature Conservancy and a local group, the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust. Negotiators say a similar negotiation over the second parcel on the beach is near completion.

Together, the deal will involve 64 acres of land. Total cost is going to be more than $450,000, said Kenny Powers, director of protection for the Alaska chapter of the Nature Conservancy.

Most of the money will come from a federal wetlands-preservation grant that passed through the state Department of Fish and Game to the Nature Conservancy, Powers said. But a local fund-raising campaign will be necessary to raise a matching share.

The conservation groups plan to work with sportfishing and migratory waterfowl groups, said Barb Seaman, director of the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust. She said they will need to raise $130,000 once the deal is all signed.

Only the lower few miles of the river are open for salmon fishing, and closing off access to the river by the beach would crowd everyone into just a few holes.

One unresolved question is who will manage the land. Powers and Seaman said the land is likely to be managed by Fish and Game rather than the state parks division, which controls the campgrounds and boat launch at the nearby Anchor River State Recreation Area. A private contractor is now running the state recreation area.

A state park on the beach would mean more formal campsites and controls. Fish and Game management would allow camping to continue more informally, Powers said. The state could not pave the area or otherwise do things that would undermine the conservation purposes behind the land-purchase grant, he said.

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