Overhead view of quarrying on Near Island from Kodiak Island Borough GIS online.
As quarrying continues on Near Island adjacent to St. Herman Harbor, a group of citizens have become concerned at the extent of land being lost, and have discovered the city has not had the right permits to allow the excavation that has been done over the past five years.
“That land is actually zoned conservation,” said Jill Wittenbrader, a local attorney who has circulated a petition asking the city to stop. “When the Near Island Comprehensive Plan came out, they went to the lengths to designate eagle nesting and trees in that specific area. But those trees have all been cut down and mined now.”
Wittenbrader discovered that the city had not obtained a conditional use permit to quarry into the conservation land, something Kodiak City Manager Aimee Kniaziowski admits was a mistake.
“We failed, the city failed to identify and then take that area of encroachment and get a conditional use permit from the borough at that time,” she said. “And we weren’t aware of the problem until the public brought it up.”
Kniaziowski said the city will be filing for that conditional use permit to cover both the conservation land that has already been mined and that portion that has not yet been quarried.
“It would be admitting the error that we made back in ’09, and trying to, and getting, the Planning and Zoning Commission to agree to allow it to go back to where it was surveyed,” Kniaziowski said.
But Wittenbrader doesn’t think granting a retroactive permit at this point is fair to others in the borough.
“It just seems a little bit insensitive and cavalier to me,” Wittenbrader said. “Because if I was doing that on my land or you were doing that on your land, it just seems like we would be held accountable. And so I just think that we should all be playing by the same rules.”
Kniaziowski said the city council will be discussing the quarry at its July 21st work session, but she doesn’t think it would vote to halt excavation short of the boundary it approved in 2009.
“I can’t imagine they’d want to stop and limit the economic development opportunity at the harbor, but I don’t know,” Kniaziowski said. “We’ll be talking about this in July.”
In the meantime, Wittenbrader said she’s prepared to file suit over the encroachment on behalf of the ad hoc group of petitioners.
“The borough code allows individuals to go ahead and file their own zoning violation complain in civil court,” Wittenbrader said. “And so I wanted to discuss that with any people who want to discuss that and whether or not we want to take that next step.”
Wittenbrader has also suggested a land swap that would have the city re-designate industrial-zoned land on Near Island as conservation, but said that idea has not yet been discussed with the city.
There are currently two contractors excavating rock from Near Island, Brechan Enterprises and B&R Fish.