KENAI - Passions ran high at a meeting on the Kenai Peninsula hosted by the state Department of Natural Resources on its proposal for a lower Kasilof River special use area and possible user fees.
State officials are responding to pressures brought by more people using the area around the mouth of the river for a special use fishery.
The Natural Resources Department held a meeting last week at a Kasilof elementary school. The Peninsula Clarions reports Diane McClure, who moved to the area several years ago, was among people objecting to possible fees.
"I left the East Coast and the Lower 48 to get away from the socialistic life that's going on down there," she said. "I intentionally bought land and a house, my property butts up to state land, so I could explore the beaches."
She uses the beach as much as twice a day, she said.
"I'm not paying to walk on the beach," she said. "That should be a right and a freedom."
Agency staff said they were considering user fees to pay for facilities and improvements. They could not specify how much that might be.
Dianne MacRae objected to the speed of the process.
"So you can put in a special use area immediately, really quick, we've got to do that because it's going to save us," she said. "But a park would take time, people might get organized, people might stand up, people might band together."
The beaches need protection, she said, but she urged Department of Fish and Game officials at the meeting to, "Do your job."
George Pierce, of Kasilof said no problem existed before the personal use fishery. He said the fishery should be expanded to nearby beaches.
"We're jammed into a two-mile area," he said. "You can only put so many sardines in a can."
Not everyone was objected to the proposal. Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, and Paul Shadura II, director of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen's Association, urged protection of habitat.
Gease said Kenai's approach to managing high use at the mouth of the Kenai River on city beaches as a good example of what should be considered in Kasilof.
"They charge fees, those fees have offset Porta-Potties, they've offset waste management, they've offset the cost of putting up fencing and they have a budget that's going that's sustainable," Gease said. "That fishery is a lot better managed now in terms of habitat protection and conservation of the beach dunes."
Brent Johnson, president of the Kasilof Historical Society and a newly elected Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly member, said a special use designation is needed.
"There's a lot of things that we're not going to like about fences and special use areas, there's no doubt about that, but if we don't save the habitat then there's going to be other things we don't like."
The official comment period on the proposal will close Nov. 15.