Erosion protection, dock building, harbor expansions, trail construction and other capital projects either under way or about to start are brightening the economic horizons of the Kenai Peninsula Borough's major cities.
Kenai, Soldotna, Homer and Seward are pouring federal, state and local money into improvements officials anticipate will boost local business, attract visitors and generally make life a bit easier for year-round residents.
Here is a brief look at what's going on in the borough's largest incorporated communities:
A proposed $10 million coastal trail project that will double as an erosion-control measure is the biggest project the city of Kenai has going at this time, said Larry Semmens, the city director of finance. A $500,000 federal grant received last year is paying for engineering work on the 1.1-mile trail.
"It will provide a trail along the bluff overlooking the Kenai River inside the city and stop erosion of the bluff. It will be a nicely landscaped trail. We're hoping to build it within three years," Semmens said.
The city also is about to spend $5 million for a new airport fire station and another $1.5 million on a new well and well house for the city's water system.
Meanwhile, Alaska Roadbuilders Inc. of Soldotna is gearing up to build the Kenai-Soldotna Unity Trail, a $2.1 million Alaska Department of Transportation project.
Backed by state funding, the city of Soldotna is upgrading the aging Soldotna Sports Center, said Joel Wilkins, treasurer and finance officer for the city. The popular facility, which hosts sporting events and trade shows, is getting a new parking lot, upgraded restrooms, an arctic entry and more. The city is seeking more state funds to continue the work.
"We've also received $1.7 million to add a third clarifier and ultraviolet system at the water treatment plant," Wilkins said.
Meanwhile, other grant money will pay to upgrade trails and boardwalks along the Kenai River, and new street and utility local improvement districts are expected to be part of next year's capital improvement budget, she said. Water and sewer extensions for Kalifornsky Beach Road and Funny River Road are on the drawing board as well.
Wilkins noted activity in the private sector, too. Already this year the city has issued eight building permits for single-family dwellings.
"I think it's going to be a good building season," she said.
The Alaska Department of Transportation and the city hope a project to build a new bridge over the Kenai River can be started by fall.
Homer's new $11 million Pioneer Dock currently under construction should be completed this year. This major upgrade of the city's port facilities will provide roll-on, roll-off freight handling capability, a larger dock face to accommodate Alaska's new ocean-class state ferries Tustumena and Kennicott as well as cruise ships, and provide a bigger berth for a new U.S. Coast Guard cutter expected soon to replace the buoy tender Sedge. The new dock replaces the aging wooden Main Dock.
"The new dock is going to be a critically important piece of the overall transportation infrastructure of the entire Kenai Peninsula Borough," City Manager Ron Drathman said.
Another project under way in the Homer Small Boat Harbor will add 140 new slips and 800 feet of transient moorage by summer of this year, which should serve to reduce a lengthy stall waiting list.
Work continues in Homer on additions to a city trail system, campground expansions and park planning, all aimed at serving residents and tourists alike.
Just recently, a local company, Jay-Brant Construction, won the bid to build a new marine center for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
Projects under way or planned in Seward easily rival those of the other three large cities in the borough.
Top among them, said City Manager Scott Janke, is a proposed 3 million-gallon fuel storage tank farm to be built by Yukon Fuel Co. The $28 million project could mean construction employment and at least 10 new permanent jobs, Janke said.
"There's also a lot of work going on in the Seward Ships Dry Dock, a facility owned by the city but managed under contract by Seward Ships Dry Dock Inc.
Much of Seward's economy is tied to the water. The city recently completed a $7 million project replacing aging wooden floats with concrete floats in the Seward Small Boat Harbor. Plans call for adding 300 to 350 new slips in an expanded harbor.
"We're hoping to see the initial construction of the navigational improvements (a breakwater and channel) in a year or so. Once we build the basin, then the float systems will be added. That's about two years away," Janke said.
In all, the harbor project will cost an estimated $13 million, much of it in federal grants.
"The need there has been well documented and it is time to grow these things," Janke said.
This spring, the Alaska Vocational Technical Education Center in Seward will launch a $4 million project to build a new dormitory and remodel the existing dorms.
A bill in the Legislature authorizing expansion of the Spring Creek Correctional Facility by 150 beds is gaining momentum among lawmakers, Janke said.
"That would add significantly to the employment opportunity here," he said.
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