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Calmer council meeting expected

Redrawn annexation lines eases protest

Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2008

With one of two highly contentious issues being all but resolved since the last meeting, the Soldotna City Council chamber Wednesday will likely not be filled to standing room only, as it was two weeks ago.

At its Feb. 13 meeting, the council faced dozens of people not interested in having their homes be annexed into the city. A proposed contract with the Kenai Watershed Forum to lease the "white house" in Soldotna Creek Park as the group's headquarters and education center also drew criticism at that meeting.

After council members redrew boundary lines to exclude many of the residential properties south of Kalifornsky Beach Road one of four areas up for annexation most protesters were appeased; some even applauded the council.

Watershed forum members were not so pleased.

Following the meeting, Robert Ruffner, the organization's executive director, summed things up by saying the city initially came to the watershed forum asking if they would like to lease the surplus house sitting in the middle of the park; the forum offered to invest up to $300,000 to renovate the building in lieu of paying rent; and then "... some council members seem to want this to be a lucrative financial deal for the city."

"As a nonprofit organization, that's not what we're about," Ruffner said.

In addition to working to enhance salmon habitat along the Kenai River and its tributaries, the forum conducts education programs with youth from schools across the peninsula, such as the Adopt-a-Stream project enabling children to get a hands-on appreciation of their resource.

On Monday, City Manager Tom Boedeker said he believes the forum "is nervous because the penalty clauses (in the proposed contract) appear as the city backing off of support for them."

He said that is not the case, however.

The city inherited the house from the state highway department when the large tract of land, including the house, was deeded over to the city because the state no longer needed the site for a roads office in Soldotna.

One of the oldest buildings in Soldotna, the "white house" was built in 1951 as an office and residence for the roads superintendent. Over the years it has been used as a residence by various city officials, including the chief of police and the Parks and Recreation director, but it has not been occupied for at least three years.

The city has been spending an average $350 a month to keep the building heated.

"A long-term arrangement is good because it gets rid of the question 'What are we going to do with it?' for 25 or 30 years," Boedeker said.

He said some of the language of the proposed contract has been rewritten and will come before the council for consideration again Wednesday.

None of the dozens of homeowners facing annexation into Soldotna who appeared at the Feb. 13 council meeting embraced the idea of becoming part of Soldotna with open arms. All who testified were opposed.

After much discussion, the council removed most of the residential properties from the proposed annexation area along K-Beach Road and amended the boundaries around the Funny River Road area to the apparent satisfaction of the protesters.

The amended ordinance is slated for action Wednesday.

The council also is scheduled to consider a resolution amending and extending the Soldotna Visitors Center lease with the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce for three years.

The council meeting is set to begin at 6:30 p.m.

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



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