Careful consideration needed when weighing Point Possession issue

Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2002

Kenai Peninsula Borough residents need to weigh in on the current assembly debate about whether the borough should auction off roughly 860 acres in the Point Possession area in August.

At its core, this is a philosophical debate with the question being: Is land better off in the hands of the people or the government?

Our instinct is to say it's better off in the hands of the people, particularly because so much of the land that makes up the borough is in government hands. After all, a big part of the "Alaska dream" is being able to carve our own paradise out of a piece of the Great Land. The only way to achieve that dream is to own a piece of property.

Having said that, however, it must be acknowledged that every borough resident is a millionaire many times over when it comes to public lands within the borough. Those vast holdings of public lands give every individual access to some of the most beautiful wilderness in the world.

Most people can't afford a piece of riverfront property, but government-owned land gives them access to enjoy the peninsula's many rivers, streams and lakes. Most people can't afford a place in the city and a place in the country, but government-owned land gives them affordable access to a wilderness escape from their cramped apartment. Most people can't afford a guided hunting or fishing trip to a more remote area, but they have access to the peninsula's plentiful game and fish resources.

The fact is those vast holdings of public lands are a huge part of what makes living on the Kenai Peninsula so special. It's impossible to put a price tag on what those public lands contribute to our quality of life. They may not contribute to the tax rolls, but they contribute immeasurably to making the borough a terrific place to live. That kind of value should not be ignored as the assembly debates what to do with Point Possession.

Granted, Point Possession is far different than a road-accessible state park. There is no road access or other amenities, such as electrical service, to the area -- which diminishes its market value. The area currently is used as a recreation area and likely would continue to be used as a recreation area if put into private hands.

There is, however, the possibility that the land would be used for commercial purposes -- a cattle ranch and a wilderness resort have been proposed for the area in the past. Commercial activities have the potential to conflict with the traditional recreational use of the area.

Assembly member Gary Superman of Nikiski is right to express reservations about selling borough land without some safeguards that would protect the environment and prevent uses incompatible with the area's recreation nature.

Superman's concerns show the dilemma of putting public lands into private hands: Our individual visions of the "Alaska dream" differ. For one person, it's a quiet, tidy cabin in the wilderness; for his neighbor, it's a collection of junk cars and howling dogs; for still another, it's a commercial venture that flies people in and out of the wilderness summer and winter.

Before the assembly puts more public land into private hands it should address these conflicting visions of the "Alaska dream," before one person's dream because another's nightmare.

The irony of this debate is that public lands are the biggest factor in making the borough a great place to live, while most of the borough's eyesores and land conflicts are with property in private hands.

A side note: As the assembly and public discuss the issue, it would be wrong to accuse Borough Mayor Dale Bagley of campaign politics. Bagley's desire to put more borough land in private hands is consistent with positions and actions he has taken before and since being elected mayor. It's no surprise that he wants to put the Point Possession land in private hands.

Unfortunately, everything the mayor -- or anyone else seeking election or re-election -- does between now and the fall elections has the potential to be seen in the light of the desire to get votes. Sure, voters should be wary, but the test should be: Is this consistent with positions taken all along? If so, it's hardly a bid for voters' favor. In the case of Point Possession, Bagley is doing what he told borough residents he would do.



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