Peninsula fares well in capital budget

Spending measure includes $144 million for Peninsula, awaits governor's review

The final $3.1 billion capital budget passed by state lawmakers this month includes nearly $144 million for the House districts that serve much of the Kenai Peninsula.

Depending on how Gov. Sean Parnell wields his veto pen, Districts 33, 34 and 35 -- those areas served by Soldotna's Kurt Olson, Nikiski's Mike Chenault and Homer's Paul Seaton -- could receive funding for dozens of projects.

"Probably the majority (of projects) will fare fairly well," Chenault said.

The major central Peninsula projects include $5 million for the Nikiski Senior Center, a $5 million grant for the Kenaitze Indian Tribe's Dena'ina Health and Wellness Center, and $4.5 million for roads throughout the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

The Nikiski Senior Center funding was one of the projects Chenault added to the budget.

"It would build a new senior center for the Nikiski seniors," Chenault said.

The new facility would centralize senior services for that community. Currently, the senior meeting place and offices of various organizations working with seniors are scattered throughout the town.

Chenault said the borough road funds are a standard addition every year.

The city of Soldotna is on track to receive $2 million for work on Redoubt Avenue and $3.4 million for the planned expansion at the Joyce Carver Memorial Library.

Olson said those were two of his priorities to work into the budget, as was bluff stabilization in Kenai.

"Those were my highest priority," Olson said.

Soldotna and the city of Kenai would get help with their waste-water systems. Kenai would receive funding for its water transmission project to the tune of $1.6 million, and Soldotna would receive more than $700,000 for the city's well house work.

Olson said those projects are well on their way and have been vetted by other state agencies.

Chenault also added money for community centers in Sterling and Funny River. Together, those projects are slated for just other $1 million.

Other water-related projects are included in the funding as well. The budget allocates $2 million for the first phase of a drift boat takeout on the lower Kasilof River and more than $150,000 for river safety and habitat protection on that same river.

Kasilof and Kenai beaches could also get some help from the budget. The Kasilof Regional Historical Association is slotted to receive $50,000 for dune fencing, while Kenai would receive $1.75 million for bluff stabilization.

Olson said he was also happy about the money for deferred maintenance on state buildings included in this year's budget. The Kenai Armory, Soldotna Trooper Detattchment, and the Kenai Courthouse are all on the list for some of that funding. That work will support the construction industry on the Peninsula, he said.

"All those dollars pretty much should stay local," Olson said.

The budget also allocates $1.8 million for Kenai Peninsula College's student housing.

That money would go toward prep work in design and engineering for dorms at the Kenai River Campus.

"We put that in the budget last year and the governor vetoed it," Chenault said.

Also included in the budget are a number of energy projects throughout the state listed by the Alaska Energy Authority. Those projects were the sticking point in the budget for quite some time when the Senate wanted to include language that would lump them together into an all-or-nothing package.

"There's $40 million right there in the AEA projects," said Olson. "I don't know what his feeling is on those."

Chenault said that some of those projects probably aren't ready for funding yet, and might be vetoed by the governor.

Chenault was optimistic about the rest of the budget, in part because the Peninsula's chunk of change is on par with other communities. Local districts are slotted to receive less than Anchorage or Fairbanks, and about the same amount as the Matanuska-Susitna districts.

Olson was also optimistic, in part because he said that past history suggests that the governor will use larger projects to whittle the budget down, not the smaller ones.

"If he's going to get where he wants to get, it's going to be with high ticket items."

None of the funding is guaranteed until the governor signs off on the budget.

The budget was signed by Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, on Tuesday and now rests in Speaker of the House Chenault's hands.

Chenault said it would most likely be transmitted early next week.

Once the budget is transmitted to Parnell, he will have 20 days to make his vetoes and sign off on the projects. Most of the funding would become available July 1.