By Jim Magowan
Turnagain Times Correspondent
Concerns about rezoning of Portage and trapping in Portage Valley were the major agenda items at the March 22 Portage Valley Community Council meeting in Anchorage.
These concerns drew about a dozen land-owners or people with business interests in Portage plus Anchorage Assemblyman, Chris Birch, U.S. Forest Service and Chugach District Ranger, Kate Walker, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Biologist, Rick Sinnott, and Larry Albert an attorney representing Joe Malone and several professional trappers, including Rick Ellis and Lynn Keogh.
Council President Steve Mendive started the meeting by explaining that the council was looking forward to moving the meetings to Portage so more people could attend and announced that the next meeting is scheduled for April 26 at 7:00 p.m. at Portage Glacier Lodge.
There was widespread agreement that when properties are being rezoned the owners need more opportunity to interact with the government agencies. Landowners said that the current PLI (Public Land and Institutions) zoning was inappropriate for private land holdings, and that it was specifically for public lands. PLI zoning does not allow residential use or development, audience members expressed.
At least one owner said he could not get a loan from a bank to build on his property because of the PLI zoning.
Assemblyman Chris Birch agreed that the PLI zoning was inappropriate for the private land holdings in Portage. When the zoning was adopted, it appears that at least some Assembly members were not fully aware of how far the Municipality was extended when the Portage area was annexed nor were they aware of the amount of private land in the area or the size of private parcels.
Under PLI zoning, a landowner wishing to develop property must go through a time consuming and expensive process to apply for a waiver. Even if the waiver is granted there is no guarantee of financing for such a project.
“The Planning Department is doing a request for a rezone (to R-11), so there is no cost to owners,” said Birch. “Planning and Zoning wrote the text to accommodate the current use.”
R-11 zoning might resolve many issues, but not all.
“I was told (by Assembly members and officials) that the zoning would preserve the traditional land use and would not change how I can use my land,” said one audience member, who lives in Portage. “This is not true. Previously the minimum lot size for my property was 2.5 acres; under the new zoning it will be five acres.”
It was also noted that the original townsite lots were small; none were five acres so they would not be developable under proposed municipal rules.
“Density is controlled by DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) rules, 40,000 square feet per residence” said Birch.
Forty-thousand square feet are slightly less than an acre. No information was offered as to the reason for the five-acre requirement.
Birch also said that new terminology was being adopted and the area will be labeled “TA” (Turnagain Arm).
Dissatisfaction with the process by which plans were implemented was expressed by several Portage landowners. Specific comments were in a regard to the Trail of Blue Ice. Owners felt they were not adequately involved in discussions about the decision to build the trail.
“It appeared that building the trail was on hold and suddenly it was done,” said a member of the audience.
“That is because sometimes funding gets ahead of planning,” said Walker. “Suddenly funding is available so the project goes ahead without additional planning and comment. Projects pop up with funding before we know about them.”
Walker also said that use of the area (Portage Valley) has increased already due to the completion of the Trail of Blue Ice. With more trail development anticipated as well as Seward Highway improvements an overall increase in use of the Turnagain Arm and Portage area is anticipated.
Steve Mendive, president of the Portage Valley Community Council, next introduced the topic of trapping in Portage Valley.
“This discussion is to see what (wildlife) is there (in Portage Valley) and identify issues, not to adopt motions, etc.' said Mendive.
“I spoke to the person who set the snare (a rabbit snare that caught a coyote),” said Rick Ellis, a trapper. “He said that the coyote was caught in a rabbit snare used to show his son how to trap rabbits (hares). The coyote was caught in a rabbit snare by couple of toes and probably would have gotten out of the snare except that someone (not the trapper) shot it; four times in the head,” “He also said that the snare was 21 feet from the trail.”
In a Turnagain Times article in the Feb. 4 issue, Bird resident Bill Nickerson, who found the dead coyote, said he could touch it with his ski poll from the trail. He also took a photo of the coyote, and gun shots to the head were not evident.
Trappers emphasized that these snares represent negligible danger to dogs and none to humans.
“The last thing a trapper wants is to catch a dog,” said Ellis. “Trappers also respect private property if it is posted, but they have no way of knowing it is private property if it is not posted.”
Several of those present reported that the number of coyotes in the area appears to be high this year.
“There is a definite increase in coyote numbers; we see them around the Wildlife Conservation Center,” said Mendive.
“This is probably the peak year for the hare population,” added Sinnott. “Next year the hare population should drop way down and the coyote population should follow it.”
“I ski (in Portage Valley) daily and see coyote tracks everyday,” said Portage resident Julie Evensen. “At least once a week a coyote runs at my dog and me. When six coyotes surrounded my dog and me, I screamed and waved my ski poles at them. They didn't budge. The coyotes are not afraid of people. The Forest Service told me it is legal to hunt and trap them and if I have a problem I should.”
One property owner asked about firearms discharge and hunting in Portage Valley. Several of those present remembered a Forest Service rule adopted for public safety about 15 years ago that prohibited discharge of firearms within 150 yards of a trail. It was also stated that Portage Valley and its drainages, except Bear Valley, are closed to big game hunting because of heavy recreational use, but Twentymile River Valley, with little recreational use, is open to big game hunting.
When asked if the firearms discharge rule applied to the Trail of Blue Ice, Walker said, “I don't know, I will check on it.”
When Forest Service and Fish and Game officials were asked about the coyote that was caught beside the Trail of Blue Ice, the legality of shooting the coyote in the snare was not addressed.
Trappers Ellis and Keogh told the audience that the Alaska Trappers Association has a DVD presentation about trapping and is willing to do presentations about trapping at meetings, including showing how traps work and how to release them if a pet gets into one.
“We do not have a resolution regarding trapping in Portage Valley at this meeting,” said Mendive. “First, we want the Forest Service to define its management areas and objectives, and we want to be sure there is public notice so people can get together and discuss the issue before regulations are adopted.”