Members put fish program, schools, roads, service area projects at top

Posted: Friday, January 14, 2005

Now that the 24th Legislature is kicking into high gear, the Kenai Peninsula Borough is putting the finishing touches on its list of priority projects that it hopes lawmakers will fund in 2005.

That list, now in draft form, includes borough, school district, road, service area projects, as well as those of the cities and unincorporated communities.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is expected to vote on adoption of the priorities list at its meeting Tuesday in Soldotna.

On the borough's list is a request for $625,000 for Cook Inlet Salmon Brand Inc., which markets salmon products under the brand name Kenai Wild, to provide for quality assurance ($125,000) and value-added equipment ($500,000).

In a Kenai Wild Project overview provided in the draft priorities list, the company said it needs the money to meet competition from processing corporations that are moving their operations overseas and to continue efforts to produce "quality protocols" for the Kenai Wild products.

Further, the company noted the current local processing sector is operating with antiquated processing equipment but has neither the market incentives nor the individual finances to purchase the kind of equipment Kenai Wild products require.

If funded, CISB would acquire and then lease the equipment to processors committed to producing value-added Kenai Wild products.

Also among the borough priorities is development on the west side of Cook Inlet. In a memo directed to the state, borough Planning Director Max Best said the borough had identified the west side as "having tremendous potential for recreational, natural resources and other development activities."

The borough is requesting that the state "work aggressively" with the borough to complete conveyance of the Kustatan Ridge area and help provide infrastructure to develop an airpark with improved access on the west side. The borough is requesting that $250,000 be appropriated toward west side development efforts.

The borough also will seek funding assistance to further efforts at marine transportation and oil facility operations safety. With the help of the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council, the borough has identified the need for nontank contingency plan reviews, shore-zone mapping programs, intertidal and subtidal habitat monitoring, pipeline integrity assessments and public outreach programs. A request figure has not yet been adopted, but the same general request last year was for $350,000.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has listed scores of maintenance projects for which it needs state funding totaling nearly $19 million. The draft priorities list breaks down the requests into the three Alaska House districts - 33, 34 and 35 - with District 33 needing a little more than $7 million, District 34 just over $3.8 million, and 35 asking for more than $8 million.

Several school district priorities are common to all three legislative districts and the dollars requested equal. They include arsenic removal from water, asbestos removal from structures, the addition of portable buildings, meeting Americans with Disability Act requirements, meeting fire marshal codes, adding sprinkler systems and other repairs.

About 25 peninsula road projects currently are on the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) list and have been incorporated in the borough's draft priorities list. Among the largest is the reconstruction of portions of the Sterling Highway from Sunrise to Sterling that together would require an estimated $70 million.

The STIP list also includes $22 million needed for Homer East End Road reconstruction from Mile 3.75 to McNeil Canyon, and $23.6 million for Homer East End Road from Mile 14 to Mile 23.4.

The borough priority list seeks to add a dozen new projects to the STIP list, including reconstruction of the North Fork Road from Nikolaevsk Village to the North Forks southern end, a project estimated to cost about $10 million. Among the dozen projects the borough hopes to see added are several smaller-scale projects on the central peninsula.

The borough supports increased funding to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities for year-round road maintenance of state-maintained roads within the borough, and appropriations to meet matching requirements of federal highway grants, including such projects as the Kenai Spur Highway extension and the Spruce Creek Bridge.

Milli Martin, assembly member from Diamond Ridge, said she expects the priority list to be adopted at Tuesday's assembly meeting. She said she does not anticipate any major revisions to the draft document.

Mayor Dale Bagley agreed, saying there were no changes to come from the administration, though he added he didn't know if anyone on the assembly was considering additional projects.

"I think it is substantially in the form it is going to be," Bagley said.

Asked how he thought the list might do overall as far as getting state funding help, Bagley said that was hard to anticipate. If there is more money this session available to lawmakers for their districts, the borough might expect some of that.

As to his own priorities among the projects, Bagley said schools were "pretty well taken care of," and that he was encouraged by Gov. Frank Murkowski's push for forward funding of education.

Roads, he said, were always a concern. However, what would be of great help to the borough (and other municipalities around the state) would be assistance with things not on the priorities list - the Public Employee Retirement System and the Teacher Retirement System, he said.

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