By Rick Smeriglio for SCN — As the beginning of a community service project intended to answer the question “What do we want for the Bear Lake area?”, Seward Rotary held a public meeting and distributed a survey to the public. Forty-two persons attended the publicly announced meeting held in Seward’s library. Many voiced concerned questions. No one advanced a concrete proposal. Rotary floated the idea of recognizing common activities on and around Bear Lake, by formally classifying some areas as recreation land according to Kenai Peninsula Borough’s ordinances .
When asked about the reason for the meeting, president of Seward Rotary, Lori Draper said, “The purpose of this meeting is to launch a survey to determine what people would like to see on Bear Lake. We won’t pursue anything that the community is not interested in.”
Rotary’s project zeros in on a 260-acre parcel adjacent to the southeast lakeshore. Blaine Bardarson owns property on that shore of Bear Lake and refers to himself as an “adamant proponent of the status quo”.
After Draper opened the meeting to group discussion, Bardarson said from the floor, “It ain’t broken. If we have public access to the lake, who is in charge? Who is not being served now? Most of the land around the lake is already public. There‘s your access.”
In a telephone interview, KPB District 6 Assemblywoman Brandii Holmdahl of Seward observed that borough lands abutting the west side of the lake seemed too steep for residential development. She opined that the 260 more or less flat acres along the southeast shore of Bear Lake seemed more developable.
Without supporting or rejecting the idea of classifying the 260 acres for recreation or for anything else, Holmdahl said, “Seward needs more places to build.”
Other unincorporated, quasi-rural areas of the borough such as Moose Pass, Cooper Landing and Hope, have KPB sanctioned, advisory planning commissions that give regular input to borough administration and to the Assembly. The Bear Creek community lies outside the purview of Seward’s Planning and Zoning Commission, yet has no planning commission of its own.
When asked about forming an advisory planning commission, Holmdahl said, “That [an APC] is something that could come out of the [Rotary] survey. If the survey shows enough support for an APC, then citizens could form one. Personally, I think it’s something to consider as an avenue to give input [to KPB]. It’s an effective means of giving input.”
Rotary’s survey does not ask about an APC, but KPB does have an anadromous waters protection ordinance. The ordinance specifically excludes Bear Lake and all drainages into Resurrection Bay. The ordinance requires a permit for certain activities within 50 feet of anadromous waters. Bear Lake supports salmon.
Holmdahl said, “Increased population density will put pressure on the resource. Lack of habitat protection is something that will have to be visited in the future.”
USDA Forest Service granted the state certain lands around Bear Lake in accordance with the Alaska Statehood Act. Pursuant to the state’s Municipal Land Entitlement Act, the state of Alaska recently conveyed to Kenai Peninsula Borough about 757 acres around Bear Lake. The state rejected conveying 2,560 other acres near the lake that KPB had previously selected for conveyance. KPB relinquished selection rights on yet another 822 acres around Bear Lake and those acres will remain in state ownership as well. KPB has not yet received its full entitlement of 155,780 acres of state lands in the borough and continues to make selections from state holdings. The surface of the lake itself, below the ordinary high-water mark, remains in state ownership. KPB records show 14 parcels of private land that abut the lake at its outlet and lie shoulder to shoulder along the south shore.
The public has a dedicated point of access to the lake surface at the end of Old Sawmill Road. Some individuals report accessing the lake surface by crossing private property with the owner’s permission. The public also has motorized access to much of the uplands around the east side of Bear Lake via the Iditarod National Historic Trail. FS maintains a small trailhead at the east end of Bear Lake Road at the road’s intersection with Bleth Street. As original management agency, FS has a state of Alaska permit to maintain the Iditarod Trial on a 100-foot-wide easement within a 1,000-foot-wide corridor across state and borough lands in the area. Which activities conform to requirements of the corridor remains unclear, but the corridor appears to extend to the lakeshore in places. FS has stated its intent to enlarge the trailhead. A section-line easement exists in theory all the way to the lakeshore running north/south along former Golden Eagle Street, now Bleth Street.
Draper said that as a next step, Rotary’s would tabulate survey results. She provided links to the on-line survey and allowed that Rotary would keep the survey open for one month. The survey asks about access and use. It asks about activities engaged in and activities the respondent would not wish to see accommodated in the area. In addition to specific choices, the survey solicits general comments.
According to KPB land management officer, Marcus Mueller, the borough has a policy of and a public process for, classifying its lands for various uses. That process applies to all KPB lands around Bear Lake, including, but not limited to the 260 acres addressed by Seward Rotary. The borough’s planning process does not apply to the lake itself. Citizens individually or collectively may participate. The process has no specific beginning and no foreseeable end.