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Off to the races: Assembly approves raceway lease

Posted: Wednesday, January 06, 2010

After rounds of public testimony supporting the Twin City Raceway at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly chambers Tuesday night, the assembly unanimously approved a 30-year lease of borough land at less than fair market value to the Kenai Peninsula Racing Lions.

And the crowd went wild.

"I suspect that same passion that's devoted to making a car go fast is going to be devoted to making the sound go slow," said assemblyman Bill Smith, of Homer, in his comments in support of the lease.

The borough has been hearing from both sides of the tracks on this issue for months -- from the racers and families who enjoy the contained and supervised raceway, and the neighboring property owners in Kenai who complain of the noise from the cars and motorcycles for two months of the summer.

The original borough ordinance proposed in the fall was to sell 157 borough-owned acres in Kenai for $1 to the Kenai Peninsula Racing Lions for the Twin City Raceway.

But amendments to the ordinance made at Tuesday's meeting changed the total acreage to 97 and substituted "lease" for "sale," after borough discussions questioned the future use of the land and the City of Kenai asked to purchase some of the acreage for wellhead protection.

After an October assembly meeting where the ordinance was heard and noise issues were raised, the Racing Lions got to work on a noise mitigation plan. They wanted to appease neighbors with an earlier closing time of the track as well as Sunday closures on weekends there aren't races, said Barney Phillips, president of the Racing Lions' motocross division, who testified at the meeting.

"We weren't forced to do these things, we wanted to do them to be proactive," he said.

But the plan did not please all of the raceway's neighbors.

Dennis Barnard of Kenai said he thinks the Kenai Peninsula Racing Lions have outgrown their location.

"The city is growing closer and closer everyday," he said.

The noise is so pervasive "it gets so you can't use your property, you can't enjoy your property," Barnard said.

"I think we all here would like to commend the Lions and what they do for the community," said Robert Flanders, who lives on Beaver Loop and spoke against the ordinance. "We are not against racing; we are against the location of it."

Another neighboring property owner, Steven Phelps, said he was concerned about the raceway expanding in infrastructure and noise that could render his property useless.

Karen McGahan, of the McGahan family in Nikiski who helped start the raceway, assured the assembly and audience the Racing Lions have no big plans for expansion.

"The only thing that is planned for this spring is seating down in the dusty parking lot," she said.

Jackie McGahan, president of the Kenai Peninsula Racing Lions, said that other plans for the future of the track include noise mitigation efforts.

The importance of the organization obtaining the long-term lease is so it can apply for grants to fund a fence and other sound barriers.

"We are doing everything we can to make this work for our community, because it is a great thing," he said.

Dozens more in the standing-room-only chambers testified to the good of the Racing Lions organization in keeping youngsters off the streets and out of trouble by giving them an outlet to focus their energy.

"Our kids are not out doing meth, they are not out drunk driving," said Lisa Brown of Soldotna. "It would be a shame to lose the motocross track."

Cory Davis, a semi-pro snow cross racer who got his start in motocross on the Twin City Raceway, said he supports the lease and the Lions.

"It is a really good thing for the youth growing up," he said. "Without motocross I wouldn't be riding snowmachines for a living."

The overwhelming community support for the Kenai Peninsula Racing Lions from Davis and others was enough to convince the assembly to approve the lease.

"I just hope we never develop into a community that feels like we've outgrown an activity that is as healthy and productive as this community sport," said assembly vice-president Charlie Pierce of Sterling.

Gary Knopp commended the Racing Lions for being receptive to the noise complaints and working with the City of Kenai and borough administration to remedy any concerns.

"I used to race motocross as a kid and look where I'm at today," he told the assembly at the end of its meeting Tuesday. "It's not all bad."

Other Assembly action:

* Approved an ordinance appropriating $16,866,500 in bond proceeds for school roof repairs.

* Approved an ordinance revising the powers and duties of the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Medical Service Area Board.

* Introduced an ordinance appropriating $291,000 to cover additional costs of the new Homer transfer facility's design, to be heard at its Feb. 1 meeting.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.



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