Change is in the wind at the Kenai Municipal Airport.
At Wednesday's meeting of the Kenai City Council, several items regarding the airport garnered council approval.
"We are designing a brand new airport fire station and storage facility," Mayor John Williams said.
The city plans to station a fire truck and one firefighter at the runway in case of an airport emergency. The attached storage space will help meet a critical need for places to park snow removal vehicles, he said.
City Manager Rick Ross said the city is moving ahead with the project now because the Federal Aviation Administration advised that funding for airport improvements will be available.
The council unanimously approved an amendment to the city contract with Cash Barner Architects asking for additional grant-eligible design and inspection services. The additional cost is about $45,000.
Resident Glen McCollum asked if the project was expensive and redundant, given the proximity of the Kenai fire station to the airport.
Mayor Williams explained that one of the forces driving the project is that city officials are confident of receiving federal money.
"Virtually all these funds will come from the FAA," Williams said.
Airport Manager Rebecca Cronkhite said the FAA told the city the project will have a high priority to qualify for about $500,000 after Congress appropriates the money. The FAA will pay about 94 percent of costs for all aspects of designing and building the facility.
Secondly, the airport has failed to meet FAA standards mandating that it get a fire truck and water onto the midpoint of the runway within three minutes of an alarm. Having a truck on-site would save crucial seconds of response time and cover planned airport expansions.
Thirdly, the city can use existing fire equipment and personnel to cover the new station without additional operating costs, he said.
The airport will have a new airline as well, but it is a charity operation rather than a commercial carrier.
SOAR International Ministries Inc., which flies missionary and charity trips to rural Alaska and the Russian Far East, is taking over the subleases to two airport lots from the Lofstedt family. Vernon Sr., Muriel Ruth, Vernon Jr. and Diana Lofstedt, who lease the property from the city, reacquired the sublease last year through a foreclosure when SouthCentral Air shut down.
The council unanimously approved the lease transfer to SOAR and its president, Richard Page.
The council also unanimously approved a lease renewal for Corey Inc. and Jody Donaghe, doing business as the Upper Deck, to operate the airport terminal bar. The Upper Deck was the only business that bid for the concession.
The airport is reaching out to other potential tenants, especially Alaska cargo carriers. Cronkhite told the council that Kenai's landing fees are lower than Anchorage's and she hopes to lure some new companies to the peninsula.
"We are pursuing it aggressively," she said. "It is a niche market." In other council business:
n The city will pay the Kenai Peninsula Borough about $164,000 in outstanding back taxes and related costs for Inlet Woods Subdivision. The debt stems from the financial recession of the late 1980s, when a deal fell through and left Kenai taxpayers holding the bag for the subdivision's costs. Protracted and costly litigation to resolve the matter concluded at the end of 1999.
The city now owns the undeveloped lots in the subdivision and has listed them for sale.
n An internal dispute between the city administration and the Planning and Zoning Commission is on the way to resolution.
The commission had given an encroachment permit to Steve and Judy Robinson for an accessory building that encroached on a city lot on Channel Way. The city administration had appealed part of the permit.
Now the Robinsons and the city have agreed to resolve the issue by having the Robinsons purchase the adjacent city property. The council voted to postpone the appeal hearing until July 19 to allow time for the sale to resolve the matter.
n Rules for the city cemetery got an update Wednesday.
Fees have been increased, and rules relaxed to allow families to personalize graves' fences, mementos and other items as long as they are approved by the Parks and Recreation Department and maintained.
Mayor Williams said he was glad to see the changes to accommodate the wishes of families.
The next meeting of the Kenai City Council will be March 15 at 7 p.m. at city hall on Fidalgo Avenue.
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