Concerns from P&Z over Dyea Flats plan frustrates board


A trip to the Dyea Flats on any given day could bring you face-to-face with a grizzly bear, hoards of pink salmon, tour groups on horseback, or locals tailgating along the meandering sloughs. With so many users utilizing the flats for recreation or commercial purposes, the Dyea Advisory Board sought to revise the 1996 management plan that expired in 2004.
Concerns over some portions of the plan’s final draft led to some spirited debates between board members, and a reexamining of what management of the flats should actually entail.
The revision of the 1996 Dyea Flats management Plan began in 2006, according to board chair John McDermott, and the final draft was submitted for approval to the Planning & Zoning Commission at its April 7 meeting.
At the meeting, Dyea board member Mary Thole indicated that the board stayed with the goals from the 1996 plan while adding a few additions and changes. One change would limit hunting on the flats to small game only. Another attempted to reflect existing language and contracts between commercial vendors on the flats and the Skagway Borough. There were also updates made concerning invasive plant species on the flats and a reaffirmation of the 1996 plan to explore the option of designating the flats as an Area Meriting Special Attention (AMSA).
P&Z Chair Robert Murphy voiced concerns pertaining to parts of the plan dealing with invasive plant species, hunting limitations on the flats, and AMSA designation.
McDermott said that limitations on big game hunting were added so as to prevent the accidental shooting of tourists or other users. He said the flats were primarily used for waterfowl hunting, so the change would be minimal and would enhance public safety.
Murphy said that allowing a person to harvest a problem bear legally as opposed to defending property was preferable, and said that people could petition the state if they wanted to see large game hunting restricted on the flats.
Murphy said it scared him to see items such as exotic species in the plan and questioned what the repercussions would be in the future by including the information in the plan. He said he was worried the flats could be torn up in an effort to control invasive species.
Murphy also asked what the benefits and potential ramifications of attaching an AMSA designation to the flats might be.
McDermott answered that AMSA designation means an area will be recognized for its special qualities and the designation will help define what permitting would and would not be allowed. He cited the Pullen Creek AMSA because of spawning salmon, and noted that the municipality has been able to enhance the area with a hatchery and obtain grants for its restoration with the aid of the designation.
Murphy said he was opposed to AMSA designation because it added another layer of government overseeing the flats. He added that the Dyea flats were obtained from the state by demonstrating and proving that the municipality could manage it.
Mayor Tom Cochran echoed many of Murphy’s sentiments, saying he was opposed to hunting restrictions and pursuing an AMSA designation. After a brief history of the Dyea Flats, Mayor Cochran said the original 1996 flats management plan was put together in order for the municipality to get the land in their possession and control it and added that while he appreciates the work that went into the plan’s revision, he thought it sounded like a “regulatory document.”
At its April 14 meeting, the Dyea Advisory Board met to discuss the concerns voiced by P&Z.
“I felt like there was some confusion on AMSA and what it’s all about,” said McDermott, who added that exploring the designation was part of the 1996 plan.
Board member Bud Rauscher asked who wrote the original document and Wendlandt answered it was Barb Sheinberg, who recently worked with the municipality on the Comprehensive Plan rewrite.
Rauscher said he thought the message from P&Z was clear and asked the other board members why they were not addressing their concerns.
Thole said she thought only Murphy had a “clear message,” and that the other three commissioners were positive or interested in more information. She said Murphy’s interpretation of the plan made her wonder if he had a conflict of interest due to the fact he was one of two commercial users on the flats.
Rauscher said he was an adjoining property owner, and as such had concerns unrelated to his commercial operations. He added that he was concerned about language in the document because it sounded like it was written by the Park Service.
“You were involved in the creation of this document,” answered Wendlandt.
Former chair Wayne Greenstreet pointedly asked, “If there is a problem, what is it?”
Greenstreet said that without the 1996 plan “we would not have this property.” He said the municipality was asked to protect the natural and historical resources on the flats “forever” as part of the agreement with the state in acquiring the land.
“We still have a responsibility to the State of Alaska,” said Greenstreet. “We haven’t yet managed the flats.” He added that the municipality had not lived up to its agreement with the state, and that it showed a lack of integrity on the part of the municipality.
Rauscher said the message he received was to be more “proactive,” and that the revised document was “restrictive.”
The comment drew some heated remarks from McDermott who expressed frustration over the amount of work put into the plan with little to no input from anyone on a municipal level, and questioned what being “proactive” actually meant.
Greenstreet said the board was asked to revise the plan by the municipality in 2006, and the goal was to make the flats passively managed.
“The plan is not restrictive,” said Greenstreet. “How can it more restrictive if it hasn’t been managed in the first place?”
The board next addressed invasive plant species and hunting regulations. Greenstreet said he didn’t “get” the opposition to the inclusion of invasive plant species in the plan.
“You can’t just pretend they don’t exist and ignore them,” said Greenstreet.
Rauscher asked, “Is the language necessary?”
“It’s not ‘language,’ it’s information,” answered Greenstreet.
Thole said it was merely an update of the area’s natural history, and Wendlandt said it was no different than including information about bird species.
Commissioner Rocky Outcalt said he came to the meeting to become better informed on the subject so he could make an informed vote. He said he was against hunting bears on the flats as there were no bears there during hunting season and the police were currently seeking to expand no hunting zones within the borough.
The board decided to leave the plan as written for its second P&Z hearing on May 13.
Greenstreet said the plan could again be addressed in five years when it expires, but reiterated the agreement with the state still needed to be respected.
Said Greenstreet, “We can look at it when we honor our agreement.”

Community weighs in on West Creek management


For some, West Creek is the perfect place to get away from the hectic pace of Skagway for a hike in the woods. For others it is a place to collect firewood or take a ride on an ATV. One thing is certain, when it comes to West Creek, Skagway residents have an opinion on how it would best be used.
Those opinions were the topic of conversation at a town hall meeting at the Elks on April 16. A packed house offered responses to host Mayor Tom Cochran opening request, “We went and put a bridge up there. Now what are we going to do?”
Mayor Cochran said a lot of people wanted to use the area for a lot of different things and added, “I think we can make it work for everybody.”
Assemblyman Paul Reichert said many people had already stated they wanted the area preserved for recreation, woodcutting, or even a hydro power project.
“This is ground zero,” said Reichert. “Like starting on the Dyea Flats plan in the 1990s.”
Mayor Cochran said a hydro project in West Creek would make it possible to hook up one cruise ship to power while it was in port, lowering emissions and potentially lowering power rates.
Steve Jaklitsch said the last time a hydro project was built rates were predicted to decrease but didn’t. He said he would like some guarantee of lower future rates if the project were pursued, and added that the area was big enough to be enjoyed by everyone.
Mayor Cochran explained that the municipality would partner with Alaska Power & Telephone for a hydro project, and a power sales agreement would be made with the cruise ships. A long-term plan would be to provide power to the Yukon. A dam and a man-made lake would be necessary to provide the power, as the run of the river would not be strong enough to supply power to cruise ships.
Mary McCaffrey said she envisioned areas designated for different uses, such as areas for edible plant harvest, areas for motorized vehicles, and an area perhaps designated for residential.
One person asked who would maintain a road during the winter if homes were ever built in the West Creek area.
Firewood harvest was mentioned by numerous attendees as a desired use, and many requested ATVs be allowed to cross the bridge to make the task feasible.
Kareen Hoover said permits could be issued for woodcutting that included a map of where the designated area for cutting was located.
Rocky Outcalt said he was against commercial logging, but wanted a decision made quickly on personal harvesting so he could take his four-wheeler across the bridge and begin stocking up before the Taiya River Bridge closes for repairs this fall.
Many in attendance said they were against commercial tourism in West Creek, but Nikki Hahn said she would not be opposed to small timber sales for personal use.
Some attendees said they would like to preserve an area for hunting.
A few said that any project would cost money and they would prefer to see nothing done in the area. Mayor Cochran said the danger of such an approach is that the area could get ruined, and he cited an “impromptu rifle range” in the area that was getting “trashed.”
Cochran took a sampling poll of those in attendance at the end of the meeting to get a general consensus on a few topics. While the meeting began with upwards of 40 people, he explained at the time of the polling there were probably 31 or 32 people left in attendance. All but three confirmed they would like an immediate decision made on woodcutting.
Twenty-eight people raised their hands in support of two outlined trails, one to the upper valley and one to Lost Lake. About half supported a feasibility study for a hydro project, and 23 supported Sheinberg & Associates preparing a plan for the West Creek area.
Results from the West Creek Community Opinion Survey varied slightly from those of the meeting. The questionnaire was mailed on April 5, and results were based on 97 responses from 750 sent out.
Hiking ranked as the most common current use in West Creek, and ranked alongside personal wood harvesting as a use that should be allowed.
While 62 percent of respondents supported the municipality spending money to develop aspects of West Creek, 44 percent favored a hydro project and only seven percent considered it a “value” for the area.
Here is a link to complete West Creek survey results (pdf).