The Kenai Peninsula Borough will receive 10,000 acres of state entitlement lands on the Kustatan Ridge, across Cook Inlet, in the near future. In anticipation of the land transfer, the West Side Development Project, a group of borough residents, community leaders and business persons, have begun to explore just how the lands can benefit everyone on the peninsula.
The plan to obtain the land came to the borough in 1998 when the Alaska Department of Natural Resources identified areas on the west side of Cook Inlet available to the borough for its land entitlement. After going through a number of selections, the borough settled on the Kustatan Ridge area -- land nestled between Lake Clark National Park to the west, Redoubt Bay Critical Habitat Area to the south and the Trading Bay State Game Refuge to the northeast -- and now is looking at ways the land can be developed to take advantage of the surroundings.
"The entitlement process isn't through, yet," said Borough Planning Director Bob Bright. "We should get a final decision from the state in the next couple of weeks."
Bright outlined a time frame that could mean at least a year before work begins in the area. He estimated land surveying would began in summer 2003, followed by six months to a year for the patent process before land could be sold. In the meantime, he said, development could begin prior to surveying. These time frames, he said, were speculative, but could be cut down.
"It may be able to go a little bit quicker than that, because some of it has already been surveyed by the state," Bright said. "We may even be able to begin this year."
The land has access to the Kustatan River, with a reported underutilized number of coho salmon. In addition to the Kustatan, there are four other fish streams in the refuge and seven in the critical habitat area. Gearing the area to accommodate sport fishing and tourism industries are options that Bright said need to be fleshed out.
Phase two of the West Side Development Project began Tuesday night with the formation of a task force to answer all the preliminary questions that were left from the initial project and establish some direction to begin working toward. Once the first concerns are identified, the group will enlist engineers to evaluate the best ways to address the questions.
"We do have $75,000 budgeted for this project," Bright said.
He said the borough has allotted money for an engineering analysis.
Long-term issues identified to address include year-round water and air access to the area, road infrastructures, area waste management and ferry departure sites. One particular challenge is finding a location best suited for building a permanent dock that won't be restricted by tidewater.
Task force chair Mark Wilkinson said most of the beach front near the entrance to the Kustatan was either mud flats similar to those in Turnagain Arm or glacier rock. There is a strip of beach front roughly more than a mile long that could support a dock.
Borough assembly President Tim Navarre said funding for building a dock is within reach, once the task force determines an adequate site and completes development of plans for the area.
"There are some state dollars available for docks and facilities in Cook Inlet that were set aside a couple of years ago," Navarre said. "Originally, it was $50 million that could be used for docks and facilities by the state."
Most important, however, is the question of what measures need to be taken to preserve the natural environment.
"How do we prevent bank erosion?" Wilkinson asked. "How do we prevent the loss of habitat?"
The primary interest to the borough is how to explore recreational opportunities on the land and take advantage of any economic benefits it would create for residents on both sides of the inlet. This could include recreational lodges, wildlife viewing tours, sport fishing and even full-time residency.
"It could become recreational," Bright said. "And now I hear people talking about homesteading there. That's a whole other ball of wax."
Wilkinson said many people with the means to get back and forth and to build would invest in Kustatan property for full-time residential use.
"I think some people would live over there year-round," he said.
"When the borough is looking at developing potentially 10,000 acres, there are people who are going to say, 'I can go live there.'"
Navarre cautioned that decisions the borough makes for the area could fall under great scrutiny from stakeholder agencies because of the sensitivity of the habitat surrounding the Kustatan Ridge.
"Some people's eyes are on us," Navarre said. "The state, DEC, Fish and Game."
Mike Peek, of Offshore Systems-Kenai, said the ability to get to the land would control how many people would try to live there.
"Accessibility is going to limit the number of people," Peek said. "I don't see your normal person walking off the street buying property there."
Debra Holle, of the Kenai Peninsula office of the American Red Cross, warned planners not to forget that the Kustatan should be available to everyone to enjoy.
"We have to make sure we don't cater to a specific socioeconomic group," she said.
The task force will continue working through developmental details before selecting an engineer to do a feasibility study.
The next meeting of the task force will be Feb. 4; a meeting place will be determined.
For more information, contact Kevin Williamson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 262-4441, ext. 448.
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