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Council picks airport site

Public outcry not enough to sway vote on resolution

Posted: Friday, January 25, 2008

Billie Gillilan will be 88 years old when she has her next birthday, and even though she and her husband organized the Soldotna Senior Center more than 21 years ago, after the outcome of Wednesday's Soldotna City Council meeting, she says she doesn't want to be buried here.

"They ignore us," she said. "I don't want to be buried at the airport."

Gillilan spoke out in opposition of a resolution that would designate a 70-acre parcel of land beyond the runway at the Soldotna Municipal Airport as the future site for the Soldotna Memorial Park. The council heard several statements from people in favor of the resolution, but an overwhelming majority, including members of a task force charged with searching for the cemetery's site, vehemently opposed the airport property, many saying they would not be buried there. Despite the contention, the council passed the resolution. Pending soil analysis, the Soldotna Memorial Park will be located adjacent to the airport.

The two pieces of property under dispute at the city council meeting were chosen by a task force which spent months meeting and inspecting parcels of land before deciding on three candidates. The task force's first choice was a 10-acre parcel of city-owned property at the end of West Redoubt Avenue adjacent to the Mooring by the River subdivision. The task force's second choice was a piece of privately owned property off of Knight Drive, and the third was the airport property.

Many Soldotna residents opposed the airport site because of its inaccessibility and isolation from the city center. Gillilan and Katherine Parker feel that for the elderly, getting to the airport site would be almost impossible.

"(The) airport site is rugged," Parker said. "Elderly people can't get around."

Gary Turner, resident of the Mooring by the River subdivision and proponent of the council's resolution, told city council members that one criteria the task force failed to take into consideration when it deliberated on potential cemetery sites was the effect it would have on residents living in the area. A cemetery off of West Redoubt would increase traffic and attract unwanted attention from the local high school, junior high and elementary school students, he contended.

"No members of the task force live in the area," he said. "A cemetery is forever. (It would) have a lasting negative impact on the living."

Analisa Selden, who lives behind Soldotna High School, said she takes her children sledding in the area the task force picked as its number one choice for the memorial park. If a cemetery were put in, she said the property would be gated off.

"(We) have a high school, a middle school and an elementary school in the vicinity," she said. "(We also) don't know what it's going to do to the groundwater."

Councilwoman Betty Obendorf was the only person on council who opposed the airport property. When it came time for council members to speak on the issue, most of the audience applauded her.

Obendorf said she doesn't object to the site's proximity to the airport and she thinks a cemetery in the area would help property values increase. But after driving out there with her husband, she said she clocked the distance at four miles from the intersection of the Sterling Highway and Binkley Street.

"It's very isolated," she said.

Obendorf said people start speculating about their afterlife at 55 years old and she asked if the airport property is a place people would visit if they had loved ones buried there. Property values wouldn't go down in the West Redoubt area if a cemetery were put in there, she said, and the area could benefit from a green space.

"Not every piece of property has to be developed for financial gain," she said. "If it's to be a memorial park, let's choose a spot where it will be a memorable memorial park."

Councilman Peter Micciche voted in favor of the airport site, but he and fellow Councilman Jim Stogsdill said they'd also consider other property suggestions during the analyses and tests the airport site must undergo. Micciche said he hoped Soldotna would start a Friends of the Memorial Park organization that would offer senior citizens transportation to the park.

"Please realize we can't make half of you happy," Micciche told Soldotna residents. "Soldotna is our home, this is where we plan to stay and if (the cemetery) wasn't located in my favorite location we would still be buried there."

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.



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