Kasilof residents split over future of community

Thursday meeting highlights benefits, drawbacks of forming council, plan of action for growth

Posted: Sunday, January 20, 2002

Attempts to create a unified community council and action plan for Kasilof met a mixed reception at a meeting organized by the Kenai Peninsula Resource Conservation and Development District Thursday night.

Around 28 residents and organization and government representatives gathered at Tustumena Elementary School for a presentation by the RC and D. The meeting, organized by Debra Holle, the Kasilof representative on the RC and D board, was meant to be an opportunity for the organization to showcase the ways it can meet the needs of a rural community like Kasilof.

"I didn't want my community to not have the information as to how the RC and D can help rural communities," said Holle to the gathered assembly. "There is help out there if a community is interested in asking for help."

Assistance comes in the form of guidance by RC and D director Mark Weatherstone and the rest of the board members, who have access to information on grants, loans and other forms of funding that communities can apply for under the right qualifications.

However, the majority of these opportunities require that a community define common goals, create a group or council to carry out these plans and compile an action plan outlining the community's future.

"There is money available for rural unincorporated communities as long as there is a nonprofit entity," Weatherstone said. "There's just a whole list of money out there, and that is kind of what the RC and D is all about."

Weatherstone highlighted two grants in particular that Kasilof qualified for provided an action team and plan were created. One, offered through the U.S. Forest Service, requires that a community be within 100 miles of a national forest and have less than 10,000 residents, the number that distinguishes a metropolitan from a non-metropolitan area. Even though it is called an economic recovery loan, communities are still eligible for funds that will be used for basic services, Weatherstone said.

Without that qualification, however, Kasilof could still need assistance in economic recovery. The entire Kenai Peninsula Borough has been declared an area of economic distress by the U.S. Department of Commerce due to high unemployment rates and low median incomes, said Linda Story the community coordinator with the Economic Development District.

While 1990 census data list the average income of Kasilof residents as $51,000, current economic situations may reflect a change in the 2000 census that also revised the boundaries of several communities south of Kenai and Soldotna. Kasilof's census block shrunk considerably, while Cohoe's grew. The area now considered Kasilof includes the north side of the Kasilof River almost to the mouth, and Cohoe falls from the river south, encompassing 1,168 residents. Kasilof, on the other hand, numbers less than half that size, with 471 inhabitants.

New census data could possibly benefit the community as far as additional funds that Kasilof might be eligible for as soon as the financial data compiled from the census is available to RC and D-affiliated organizations.

Still, before most grant money can be doled out or even applied for, a community must come together, forming an entity to distribute funds. In addition, a consensus regarding what should be done with grant money must also be achieved.

To promote discussion, Holle and Weatherstone opened the floor for ideas about how residents want Kasilof to look 10 years in the future. By 2012, some had aspirations for a community center, including facilities ranging from a senior center to a skating rink to a swimming pool and a recreation center for children. Others made suggestions in jest, and still others made it known that they would oppose all attempts to organize a community council or any such facilities.

When the RC and D facilitated a similar exercise with a group of Nikiski residents last year, a list of 85 needs and concerns was compiled, Weatherstone said. Only slightly more than a dozen suggestions, not all of which were made seriously, were generated in Kasilof. While a faction of the group voiced support for a community council and projects, another segment was adamant about its desire to see Kasilof remain exactly as it was in homesteading days.

"It was clear to me that there were some people in the room that were interested in working toward some positive changes in the community," said Holle, herself a resident of Kasilof. "There was another clear view that we really are very happy with the way things are right now."

Holle, who said it was not clear to her that anyone had voiced any interest in creating a community plan, let alone arriving at a consensus on what that plan might entail, also said she felt there was more interest in Thursday night's meeting than she had observed in past meetings.

"I think that will come as people are able to organize themselves," she said. "What the RC and D will do now is we will wait to hear from people in the community."

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