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New rules for ice houses

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Posted: Saturday, August 10, 2013 8:27 pm

PALMER — The Mat-Su Borough’s planning commission didn’t like the idea, but the assembly has voted to toughen its rules on temporary winter fishing shelters known as ice houses.

The ordinance’s sponsor, Jim Colver, admitted at the assembly’s regular meeting Tuesday that the new rules aren’t much, but they give homeowners out there something to point to when ice houses become a problem.

“We have minimal enforcement, but if we don’t have any kind of baseline rules we don’t have a leg to stand on,” he said.

Among other things, the new rules require ice houses be more than 75 feet from the high-water mark on the shore and more than 30 feet from any other ice house; that “human waste” (i.e. poop) be removed from the lake; and that the ice houses be removed from the lake before the ice loses its ability to support equipment needed to remove them.

The rules only apply to lakes named in the ordinance, the eight lakes with management plans that require registration of ice houses: Big Lake, Lake Five, Diamond Lake, Little Lonely Lake, Question Lake, Little Question Lake and two unnamed lakes in the Question Lake area.

Big Lake was kind of the origination of the new rules. Mike Szymanski, who has a family cabin on the lake, testified at Tuesday’s meeting about experiences he’s had recently with ice houses.

“Particularly what we have experienced out there in the last couple of years is this proliferation of ice houses that have become not only obnoxious, but a hindrance to the public out there,” he said.

He said residents pay to plow spots to park cars on the ice in the winter to access cabins they can’t get to by roads. Those are great spots for ice houses.

“We’re finding all of a sudden we’ve got people showing up drilling holes about 15 feet from your front door where you park your car,” Szymanski said.

He said there was even one ice house this past winter that seemed to have people stopping by at all hours multiple times a day.

“I don’t know what that guy is doing out there, but I don’t think it’s fishing,” he said, later saying speculation was maybe there were drugs being dealt there. An ice house, being on flat, open space like a lake, would give a person a good view to spot potential approaching Alaska State Troopers.

Assemblyman Darcie Salmon noted this anecdote in explaining why it might be a good thing the ice house rules don’t go beyond what they do or require strict enforcement by unarmed code compliance officers.

“Has anybody ever walked up on a tweaker and tried to tell him to move on? I don’t want my code compliance out there walking into these ice cabins in the middle of the night when they’re in there cooking ice or whatever it may be. That’s an invitation or an opportunity to get somebody hurt,” he said, using the colloquialism “ice” as a term for methamphetamines and “tweaker” as a term for a meth user.

Assemblyman Vern Halter said he understands why homeowners might want new rules even if they’re not tough new rules.

“At least they’ve got something to say (to) these people,” he said. “If they ask to see the permit they could take a little tougher stance.”

As for why the planning commission didn’t like the idea, the sentiment around the table at that meeting seemed to be that the borough shouldn’t be messing with locally produced lake management plans.

Colver’s rebuttal was that those plans certainly spoke to ice house regulations. This is simply implementing them.

Contact Andrew Wellner at 352-2270 or

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Friday Fling

LaMarr Anderson, outgoing president of the Palmer chapter of Rotary International, welcomes people to the first Friday Fling of the summer May 22. The popular street fair in downtown Palmer runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays through Aug. 14 and features live music and a variety of food and craft vendors. Onstage with Anderson are musician Lulu Smalls, Palmer Mayor DeLena Johnson, Joan Tulstop, owner of Magic Metals, and Kelly Larson, new president of Palmer Rotary.

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