KWF plan stalls with city council

Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2008

Staffers with the Kenai Watershed Forum will have to wait a little longer to move into their new headquarters home in Soldotna Creek Park if that in fact is to be their new home.

Introduced in November as Ordinance 2007-32, authority to lease the "white house" to the forum was once again held up by the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday.

Terms of the proposed 30-year lease agreement have hit a number of snags during the past few months, and after more debate among council members, Councilman Scott McLane moved to postpone action on the measure again.

In the eyes of some council members, the city is being too generous in its lease terms.

The watershed forum sees it differently.

City Manager Tom Boedeker said Wednesday, he thought the ordinance should be passed, allowing him flexibility to finalize details of the contract.

"I feel several aspects of this agreement are irresponsible on the part of the city," said Councilman Peter Micciche, adding 30 years is a long time. "I'll be 76," he said.

The basic agreement calls for the watershed forum to invest some $300,000 to renovate the building, which the city inherited when the state highway department deeded over its yard, which is now Soldotna Creek Park.

In exchange for the renovations, the watershed forum would occupy the building rent-free, using it as the organization's headquarters and as an education center to teach youth about responsible management of natural resources, particularly the Kenai River watershed.

Before council members began debating whether 30 years is a fair term, if $300,000 is an equitable amount in lieu of rent and other terms of the agreement, watershed forum staff members told the council about past work of the non-profit organization.

Working to resolve the issue of increased hydrocarbons in the river from power boats, Jennifer McCard said the agency has purchased 200 of the highly polluting two-stroke engines from fishermen.

Stephanie Kobylarz said the forum has worked with the Department of Fish and Game to assess some 270 culverts to determine if juvenile salmon are able to migrate through them.

"So far, we've replaced 10 culverts," she said, including one at Slikok Creek, which has opened 12 additional miles of salmon habitat.

Dan Pascucci described education programs with youth from 10 schools across the Kenai Peninsula, particularly working on the "Adopt-a-Stream" project enabling "kids to get a hands-on appreciation of their resource."

Having its offices in Soldotna Creek Park "could make Soldotna the epicenter of river education," said watershed board member Kristy McCullough.

When contacted after Wednesday's postponement, watershed Executive Director Robert Ruffner said, "When the city first approached us about the facility, we were led to believe all wanted this to happen in the best interest of both parties.

"Now some council members seem to want this to be a lucrative financial deal for the city. As a non-profit organization, that's not what we're about," he said.

"We're not interested in negotiating based on the terms they were talking about at the last meeting," Ruffner said.

"We presented what we thought was a good faith offer to benefit both. As a non-profit, we are not about playing hard ball," he said.

Boedeker and one council member Betty Obendorf were the only officials asking that the ordinance be approved as presented.

The other council members voted to postpone action.

In other council business, a $500 grant was approved for a United Nations Model grant to help Soldotna Montessori School children travel to the U.N. in New York City. The students need to raise $40,000 to pay for the trip. Grants were also approved for Soldotna and Skyview high schools to help defray costs of their after-prom and after-graduation programs.

City Clerk Teresa Fahning reported receiving an initiative petition involving the location of a Soldotna city cemetery. Jim Fassler, a member of the now-defunct cemetery task force, said earlier the ballot initiative seeks to put the location up to a vote of the people.

In deciding against building the cemetery on city-owned land at the end of West Redoubt Avenue as recommended by the task force Fassler said, "I feel the council pulled the trigger too quickly."

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.



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