When the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly reconvenes for its first meeting of 2014, there will be a lot of commending resolutions, grant appropriations and other fairly routine business on the agenda. That’s a sharp contrast from a year ago, when one of 2013’s most contentious issues took center stage from the get-go.
That issue was, of course, the battle about the Borough’s habitat protection ordinance. Or anadromous streams ordinance. Or, depending on whom you talk to, the Borough’s land snatch ordinance.
To Assembly member Kelly Wolfe, it was just bad policy. He introduced an ordinance to repeal extended habitat protections back in January.
“The habitat protection I see is the original ordinance and I believe very strongly that the Kenai Peninsula Borough is not capable of enforcing habitat (protection) across they Kenai Peninsula. They’re not able to do it effectively,” Wolf said.
A series of public meetings and forums was held throughout the spring. Testimony went on for nearly six hours June 18th when the Assembly voted in favor of keeping the protections in place, including the contentious fifty-foot setback from anadromous streams for construction and development.
Even with that issued seemingly settled, it was a major factor Assembly elections later in the year. Assembly president Linda Murphy was replaced by Soldotna city council member Dale Bagely, in part, because of he didn’t like the streams ordinance.
The other big issue during the elections was term limits. That’s one that seems to resurface every few years, about the time someone on the Assembly is looking at being termed out. Assembly member Charlie Pierce stood behind the past decisions of voters when it was time to vote on whether the question should go on the ballot yet again.
“How many times do we have to debate this and change the terms and the conditions before we believe the voters have already voted on it? I think we need to respect the fact that, you know what, it’s there. And until someone takes the initiative out in the community, the voters, the constituency, takes the initiative, I believe the right thing to do is to have that happen and not have the initiative occur here,” Pierce said.
Coming as a surprise to some was the controversy over the Assembly’s passage of selling revenue bonds to finance a major expansion at Central Peninsula Hospital. Though the project had been presented and talked about at length for many months, the $43 million price tag was too much for some residents, like Dan Green of Soldotna.
“I find it odd and frankly unacceptable, that this resolution to finance a project of this magnitude is being considered with very little public notice and does not require a vote of the public,” Green said.
The bonding resolution did pass, and now the hospital is awaiting approval of a Certificate of Need from the state to go ahead with the expansion.
One thing there was little debate about in 2013 was how much water was rushing into the homes of property owners along K-Beach road last fall. That’s an area over which the Borough has very little responsibility aside from maintaining roads.
But flooded homeowners wanted to see some action. They got some on October 29th, when Borough Mayor Mike Navarre declared a local disaster. That was followed up the next day with a declaration from the Governor. At the time, Borough Emergency Management Coordinator Scott Walden said during a public meeting that the problem went well beyond that neighborhood.
“There’s an assumption by communities outside of this area that the only area affected is the K-Beach area. You guys are probably the most drastically affected of the lot. But within the city of Kenai, people are reporting foundations blown out. In Nikiski, neighborhoods can’t access their homes because lakes are across the road,” Walden said.
State and local officials will have a better idea of how to ease potential flooding in the future after the snow is gone, but safeguarding that area against groundwater flooding is a tall order, and will require resources from the state for any major mitigation projects.
While the capital projects list the Assembly will vote on doesn’t specifically ask for any funding to handle that problem, it does ask for a number of other road improvements. Also on the list is a complete remodel or relocation of the Soldotna fire station, improvements to the North Peninsula Recreation Center and a new library in Anchor Point. The Assembly’s first meeting of the year is next Tuesday the 7th.