Sterling pursues best laid plans

Traffic safety, senior center improvements focus of community plan

Posted: Friday, January 16, 2004

Creating a coalition to represent residents' desires, lobbying the state to improve traffic safety near the Sterling post office and supporting improvements to the senior citizens center are among elements of a proposed Sterling community plan hammered out by 17 Sterling residents and Kenai Peninsula Economic Develop-ment District officials Wednesday night.

Assisted by Dee Gaddis and John Parker from EDD, the Sterling citizens finalized the long-range community plan, which includes 25 civic-improvement goals, that will be presented for incorporation into the overall plan of the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Chief among the goals listed is supporting the Sterling Senior Citizens Center kitchen remodeling project and the acquisition of adjacent property for the development of senior housing near the center.

The citizens group also recommended the continued development of community property near the intersection of the Sterling Highway and Swanson River Road, including the installation of public restrooms.

Speaking as a VISTA volunteer, Sterling resident and Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member, Grace Merkes introduced a draft of the community plan Wednesday, saying the plan has been in the works for two years.

"It was written off the comments of 600 respondents to a survey sent out about two years ago," Merkes said.

After allowing the residents in attendance to review the plan draft, Gaddis suggested that the list of Sterling goals be prioritized to assist the borough in completing its comprehensive plan.

Under the heading, "Organize to have an official voice to the borough," the group recommended having volunteers step forward from groups of Sterling senior citizens, the business community, the Community Club, schools, churches and organizations to form a coalition to develop a community consensus and fairly represent Sterling to the borough.

Gaddis said the goal aligns with the state's expressed wish to have community organizations partner with one another.

The group also targeted research to establish Sterling's boundaries, which vary widely among interests such as the voting district, the senior citizen district, the fire service area, the post office district and others.

"Everyone has different boundaries for Sterling," said Judy Warren, director of the Sterling Senior Citizens Center, who showed a map outlining the Sterling senior service area which runs along the Kenai River on the south, stretches to the northernmost reaches of the Kenai Peninsula, bumps into the Soldotna city limits on the west and follows an imaginary line to the east, partway between Sterling and Cooper Landing.

About the only line common to all of the various agencies' boundaries for Sterling is the Kenai River to the south.

Another goal of the proposed community plan is to lobby the state to eliminate the hazard that the Sterling post office intersection poses to motorists.

Members of the group discussed realigning the entrance to the post office so visitors could exit and re-enter the Sterling Highway more safely.

One member of the group, Bob Oakes, a representative of the Sterling Community Club, said the state has repeatedly acknowledged the hazard in the past, but has said utility lines running through the immediate area complicate potential solutions.

Also on the list of goals in the proposed plan is cleaning up contaminated soil in Sterling. Specif-ically mentioned were petroleum-products spill sites near the now closed Zip Mart on Swanson River Road, near the closed Chevron gas station on the Sterling Highway and near the Cook's Corner Tesoro station.

Down the road, the Sterling citizens also would like to form their own chamber of commerce and eventually build a visitors center, possibly using the old log cabin, which once was Sterling's one-room elementary school.

Under the caption of improving transportation and infrastructure, the citizens suggested widening the Sterling Highway to four lanes between Sterling and Soldotna and building a bridge across the Kenai River to access Funny River Road.

In the proposed community plan's vision statement, the citizens said, "We the citizens of Sterling, who value the preservation of family life for future generations, wish to live in a rural atmosphere that offers recreational opportunities.

"We will strive to preserve our natural environment by creating responsible access and promoting sustainable economic growth," the statement read.

The EDD is gathering community plans from 10 unincorporated areas of the borough, which will be considered for incorporation into the Kenai Peninsula Borough plan slated to be complete by 2006, according to Gaddis.

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