Wish list: Assembly to tackle federal priorities list

Posted: Thursday, February 01, 2007

As it does each year at this time, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is preparing the final draft of its federal priorities, a wish list of projects and positions the borough wants Alaska’s congressional delegation to back.

At its Feb. 6 meeting in Soldotna, the assembly is expected to consider Resolution 2007-007 and formally adopt the 2007 Federal Priorities list.

Topping the projects in this year’s version is a computer-aided dispatch system for all four communications centers located within the borough. The borough is asking the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for $1 million to fund servers and workstations at communications centers in Soldotna, Kenai, Homer and Seward.

Scott Walden, the borough’s emergency manager, said the system would link all the servers through Alaska Land Mobile Radio (ALMR) circuits, enabling data sharing, mutual activity monitoring and backup.

Among other things, the system would integrate real-time mapping with call handling, dispatching, records and information management, mobile data in patrol car computers, as well as track emergency vehicles, essentially making the entire system far more efficient, according to information included in the federal priorities packet.

Elsewhere, the borough is asking for $800,000 through the Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of Commerce to fund continuing programs of the Kenai River Center.

The multi-agency facility that manages water resources in the Kenai River drainage through permitting, information and education wants the money to further efforts to establish a broad baseline water-quality databank.

This would include digital elevation mapping of critical watershed to connect with fiscal year 2007 work in Seward and the Resurrection Valley ($380,000), continued watershed assessment ($82,000), baseline water quality and sediment studies ($120,000) extended wetlands mapping to cover the Cooper Landing/Kenai River corridor ($190,000) and development of best management practices for culvert removal and replacement necessary to prevent blocking salmon habitat ($28,000).

The borough seeks another $5 million from the U.S. Forest Service for Phase 3 of the ongoing spruce bark beetle mitigation program. Under a five-year funding strategy (FY 2005-FY 2009), the borough is to receive a total of $23 million.

Among other things, the requested $5 million would be used to remove hazard trees, identify and implement fire-hazard and forest-health management programs, build emergency response facilities and update equipment.

Last among the four-project priorities is expansion of the Kenai River Center, for which the borough is asking $1.9 million. Designs put together in 1999 included expansion of the building to facilitate increases in staffing and improved services.

According to the federal priorities packet, agency activities at the center have increased every year and are expected to continue growing. Two additional staff members were added last year, requiring offices in areas originally designed for education and public meeting rooms.

There are also plans to add the Army Corps of Engineers Kenai Field Office to the facility, but the current structure prohibits growth. A facility expansion will ensure the public will have one location as originally intended, where local, state and federal agencies will work cooperatively to protect valuable habitat for fish and wildlife, according to borough officials.

The federal package also lists the borough’s legislative priorities. Congressional support for a North Slope natural gas pipeline and a spur line off that pipe to the Cook Inlet region are urged.

The borough also backs including Lower Cook Inlet lease sales 211 and 219 in the 2007-2012 Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing program, but includes with that support several positions taken by Cook Inlet regional officials — that there be no offshore loading of tankers, that conflicts with commercial fishing gear be avoided, that exploring companies have adequate spill prevention and response capability, that critical habitats be identified, and that provisions for revenue sharing with local governments be made.

The borough has called for creation of an annual federal funding mechanism for the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council (CIRCAC).

Also on the borough’s legislative priorities list is the Chuitna Coal Mine. The borough supports development of the Beluga coalfield resources west of Tyonek, believing it would create several hundred construction and operations jobs within the borough and offer opportunities for coal-based industries.

The mine, however, is becoming increasingly controversial because of its potential for environmental damage. Residents opposed to the mine project have questioned the wisdom of the borough’s support.

Part of the federal wish list is devoted to the legislative priorities of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. The district seeks adequate funding for teachers in Nanwalek and Tyonek, and wants the growing cost of health care addressed. The district also wants mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind and Individuals with Disabilities acts fully funded.

Finally, the district is urging support for improving East End Road. The borough operates four schools in the communities east of Homer, including McNeil Canyon, Razdolna, Voznesenka and Kachemak Selo. Road conditions preclude bus transportation to all but McNeil Canyon Elementary School.

Also in the federal package are special projects that include:

n A coastal erosion study;

n A three-year program to develop a scope of work for understanding the shallow, unconfined aquifers of the lower Kenai Peninsula;

n A community center at Funny River;

n A Sterling Community Club;

n Long-term assistance to the Cook Inlet fishing community through fisheries rehabilitation and enhancement;

n Implementing the Flood Hazard Mitigation Plan; and

n Additional funding assistance for the Sterling ZipMart cleanup effort.

The wish list document also includes lists of municipal federal priorities.

Hal Spence can be reached at harold.spence@peninsulaclarion.com.

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