PALMER — The Mat-Su Borough Assembly passed Ordinance 21-094 to approve the design and construction of seven “fish-friendly” culverts to allow salmon to pass under borough roadways. The ordinance comes from a revision from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service at add additional funding for culvert replacements in the amount of $429,067 with borough matching funds of $240,000.
“The Matanuska-Susitna Borough is a member of the Mat-Su Basin Salmon Conservation Partnership, which is one of four nationally recognized fish partnerships by the National Fish Habitat Action Plan board through the USFWS. The partnership has created a strategic plan, which lists obstructions to fish passage as one of the major threats to salmon health in the Mat-Su Basin, and the project identified in this legislation is but one of these projects. Through this partnership, the USFWS works collaboratively to survey, identify, fund and remove barriers to fish passage, thus keeping our salmon population healthy and viable.” reads IM 21-184.
The seven identified culverts are at Hidden Hills Road on Caswell Creek to restore 2.31 upstream miles of habitat as well as O’Brien Creek, Royal Lane, Rubacaba Street, Ograde Street, Settler’s Bay Road at Crocker Creek and Mastodon Road at the Birch Creek tributary. The previously approved budget of $989,076 was amended by the accompanying Resolution 21-094 to $1,178,052. Of the $240,000 borough contribution, $122,980 come from Fiscal Year 20 matching funds and $117,020 come from FYS 21.
“Some people are going to fall out of their chairs, I’m a conservationist. I’m a hunter, I’m a fisherman, and this does nothing for salmon, zero. Okay, I don’t see if we’re going to pass this and we’re going to spend a half a million dollars on this, why don’t we have somebody up here who is a fisheries biologist saying this is essential. We don’t. What this is is it makes everybody feel good. I’m against it for that reason,” said Assemblyman George McKee.
McKee questioned why the installation of fish culverts was not done properly in the first place. Assemblyman Jesse Sumner noted that many of the culverts that are scheduled to be replaced were installed 40 to 50 years ago, and that holding borough staff that installed them would prove difficult.
“The culverts that we are replacing are barriers to fish passage and we are replacing them with culverts that are designed to encourage passage both directions,” said Public Works Director Terry Dolan. “We’ve been doing it for a long time. I like it because it does reduce the risk of losing a roadway during a flood. Lots of culverts that were installed in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s were undersized and they result in flooding and when we replace these culverts, we replace them with a culvert that can handle a 100-year flood, so there’s some good ness that comes out of this in terms of road protection as well as fish passage.”
Assemblyman Rob Yundt II said that he was in favor of passing the grant funding, but asked to have fish biologists come and present to the Assembly about the importance of the “fish-friendly” culverts.
“When these culverts were installed, nobody understood how they blocked fish passage. Nobody understood that the fish wouldn’t cross through something that small or dark and what we’re doing now is trying to fix — with better science — were trying to fix a problem that was created because we didn’t understand the problem that was created back then,” said Assemblyman Tim Hale.
The vote to approve OR 21-094 passed 6-1 with only McKee voting in opposition.
“One of the biggest political things we worry about with salmon is from the Kenai area, from the Cook Inlet area is we don’t take care of our environment. We don’t allow fish to get back into their streams and resources and these culverts have been one of the biggest problems,” said Mayor Vern Halter. “When we meet with fish and game right in their offices, we’re kind of the poster child of this program because we’ve been trying to renovate something that didn’t work many years ago and I agree with you, the culverts sucked years ago. They didn’t work, they blocked salmon, but it’s our responsibility to make that change now and this is the help form the Federal government to do that and I’m 100 % behind this program.”