Soldotna hears from residents on Birch Ridge golf course

Soldotna City Council postponed voting on an ordinance that would prohibit synthetic drugs, including spice and bath salts, at the public meeting on Wednesday.

 

Since it was introduced at last month’s meeting, the state Legislature has proposed a bill that would make the drugs illegal statewide, said City Manager Mark Dixson. 

The Council agreed to wait until the next meeting and hear whether the bill passes in the Senate and House of Representatives.

However, before getting down to the action items, the council listened to an unusually lengthy period of public commentary from a group of avid residents, whose size exceeded the rooms’ maximum occupancy.

Headed by Patrick Cowan, owner of the Birch Ridge Golf Course, the speakers ranged in age from 12 to 81, each imploring the city to purchase the course property.

Cowan said he is looking to retire, with his seventy-fifth birthday coming up in June. Before that happens he will do everything he can to ensure Birch Ridge will remain a golf course, he said.

“Me and my wife put our heart and soul into this for the last 26 years,” Cowan said. He has seen 1,600 introduced to the sport at his course in the last two decades.

Birch Ridge puts money back into the community, Cowan said. He was able to donate $45,000 to organizations across the Kenai Peninsula in 2013. Players come from as far as Sterling and Ridgeway to Funny River and Kasilof every year, which means more revenue for local business, he said.

It also acts as a social hub for many community members, Cowan said. The Kenai Peninsula is one of the fastest growing areas for seniors, he said. Additionally, with restrictions on recreational fishing, locals and tourists will be looking for other activities to spend their time, he said.

Anika Richards, the reigning Alaska Girls State Champion for her age group was in the audience. The Birch Ridge Golf Association received the “2012 Don Springer Award”, recognizing it as the top-ranked Hook-a-Kid-on-Golf course in the nation.

“I beg you to accept the plan, it is an already developed asset,” Executive Director at Alaska Golf Association Jeff Barnhart said. “It is an almost irreplaceable asset to your community.” Barnhart drove from Anchorage to speak at the meeting.

The City of Soldotna had considered and turned down the possibility of buying Birch Ridge in 2008. This time around, Cowan proposed the possibility of the city buying the property and leasing managerial duties to a private contractor.

Soldotna Mayor Nels Anderson said he defined it as a “quality of living issue,” and was personally in support of purchasing the property, but cannot cast a vote toward it.

Anderson said, the council has a number of options to consider. The city could vote to purchase, pass the issue along to the public, or see what would happen if it was purchased privately.

“You have to understand I understand where you are,” Anderson said to the council. The city has a number of trails planned for development that would cut through Birch Ridge and if it were sold off it would be a problem, he said.

At the end of the meeting Dixson said while he is in favor of maintaining recreational opportunities on the Peninsula, “at some point the city of Soldotna can’t be saviors for everyone.”

During council commentary almost every member personally thanked those who turned out for the meeting to voice their opinions.

Council member Keith Baxter said it is uncommon to see such a courteous, organized, well-spoken group at a meeting.

Kelly Sullivan can be reached at Kelly.Sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com

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