Soldotna cemetery is long overdue

Editorial

Posted: Friday, January 13, 2006

Soldotna likes to cultivate the reputation of being a “nice” community — friendly people, good schools, a well-developed service industry and a government that cares about its residents.

That reputation makes the city’s lack of a cemetery so glaring that it borders on ironic.

More than that, Soldotna’s as-yet unsuccessful push to create a final resting place for its residents is an insult to its heritage — the homesteaders who spent decades building lives, homes, businesses and, consequently, a city here.

Soldotna was born when the area was opened to homesteading in 1947. Homesteaders endured countless hardships just getting here — there was no Sterling Highway back then — followed by years of hard work, sacrifice and selfless civic contributions.

Soldotna owes its founders gratitude. Instead, it sends a mixed message to its residents: Thanks for coming. Just don’t expect to stay here when you die.

The residents of Soldotna, whether they’ve been here for five years or 50, are only allowed to call the city home while they’re alive. After they die, loved ones must put their remains to rest somewhere else — down roads they probably didn’t take to work, church or the store; past houses that didn’t host sleepovers for their children; near a post office they didn’t stop in to swap stories and packages.

The long-overdue push to build a cemetery is finally gaining momentum, in part because Spruce Grove Cemetery in Kasilof is filling up.

The city formed a cemetery task force to examine possible sites. They found and ranked seven, their first choice being a borough-owned 10-acre parcel along West Redoubt Avenue. The borough was prepared to swap that land for a city parcel near Arc Lake. Due to a deed restriction, the deal fell through.

Then the borough offered to transfer the land to the city for $1 — a public entity transferring land to a public entity for a public project. Despite the greater public good to be gained by the deal, the complaint was raised that transferring the land for essentially nothing amounted to giving away borough resources, since the land could be used for property tax-generating residential development.

In other circumstances, that complaint would come off as greedy, or at least uncivic-minded. But in this case the borough’s current financial crunch makes the argument a plausible one. This is not the ideal time for the borough to give up possible revenue-generating land for nothing.

In its last meeting, the borough assembly approved transferring the land for $55,000 — equal to the value of the land the borough would have gotten from the Arc Lake swap. While it’s not nearly the fair market value of the West Redoubt land, the borough would at least be getting something for it — certainly more than the vacant lot currently generates.

But even if that measure passes a scheduled reconsideration vote Jan. 17, it doesn’t mean the project’s a go. At council and assembly meetings about the deal, residents near the West Redoubt parcel have spoken out again the proposal. Their reasons range from affront against a borough land “giveaway,” to the supposed negative impact a cemetery would have on their school-focused neighborhood.

While their opposition motives may have more to do with concern over property values and a “not in my backyard” mentality, the reasons for their complaints don’t ultimately matter much. This is America, and its residents shouldn’t be forced to live next to a cemetery if they don’t want to, especially when there are other options.

So what is the city to do? Our suggestion is to go back to cemetery task force’s list. Find a parcel that isn’t in anyone’s backyard. The price tag will probably be heftier, especially without the borough’s deal, but it would be worth the cost.

Just ask the residents. Come up with a cost estimate and put it to a vote. Our guess is Soldotna will think a cemetery is a needed community improvement that’s worth the cost.

That’s just the kind of neighborly town it is.



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