North peninsula residents looking for an opportunity to participate in mapping the community's future will get their chance Saturday at Nikiski's economic outlook forum.
"The North Peninsula Community Council has a (U.S.) Forest Service grant and the grant was put together to develop a community action plan, and this, we feel, would be the compliance with that grant," said Fred Miller, head of NPCC.
What Saturday's forum isn't, however, is part of an effort by some Nikiski residents to turn Nikiski into an incorporated city.
"We invited 82 people and then did a survey of those people asking if they received the letter and whether they were coming to the meeting," Miller said. "And a vast number said they weren't coming because they are against incorporation.
"We're hoping to get the message out that this is not an incorporation meeting," he said.
The day's schedule -- beginning with registration at 8:30 a.m. -- includes an opportunity to hear from Nikiski's Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Jack Brown and a presentation by borough Superintendent of Schools Donna Peterson.
"Anytime communities can come together and discuss priorities, I believe is it a good thing," said Peterson, adding that two things are important for safe communities -- a sense of neighborliness and a common high standard of behavior expectations.
"I'll be talking about how communities can foster these two things and how they positively impact schools."
Peterson said she'll also "be making a huge plug for getting sustainable jobs in the area and what that means for all of us -- school enrollment, test scores, government services, etc. Of course I'll be talking about how 'good schools' are an attractor for employees wanting to move quality folks to the area."
A representative from the U.S. Department of Interior's Resource Conservation and Development District will help coordinate activities throughout the day, as will Wanetta Ayers of the borough's Department of Community and Economic Development
"I think Nikiski is like a lot of communities on the peninsula," Ayers said. "(Nikiski is) considering its future and the changes possible over the next 10 years. It's really important that they have a mechanism to talk amongst themselves and develop community plans based on that thinking."
Attendees will participate in defining the community's strengths and developing a list of ideas for expanding Nikiski's potential.
"Meetings like this give people plenty of time to understand what the thought processes are of others in the community," Miller said. "That's the whole purpose of putting a plan together."
Nikiski follows Kenai and Soldotna in holding meetings of this type, according to Linda Story, VISTA -- Volunteer In Service to America -- volunteer with the borough's Department of Community and Economic Development, who is responsible for helping coordinate these forums. She's currently working with Seward to organize a similar event, to be followed by another in Seldovia in April.
"Eventually we hope to hit all the communities on the peninsula," Story said. "It allows residents to get together on priorities of how they would like to see things go and have a definite list of things that they are able to work toward."
Miller said he hopes that by the end of Saturday's forum NPCC will have enough information for the council to complete a community plan that will open the door to federal funds available to rural unincorporated areas.
"I went to a meeting a year and a half ago and heard that $100 billion is given away to unincorporated rural communities for small projects, and these communities have to have an area plan to get on that funding list," Miller said. "Our efforts are to get that funding available to us."
Projects Miller has in mind include a covered barbecue area at the North Peninsula Recreation site and a community well at the Nikiski cemetery to water flowers and shrubs.
With regard to the possibility of combining the efforts of the council and Nikiski residents exploring incorporation, Miller said, "Unfortunately, the ring leaders of that group used to be on the community council but broke away from us because we weren't working fast enough for them and didn't have the same agenda. They've pretty much distanced themselves from anything we're involved in."
The community council leader said although the Saturday forum isn't related to the incorporation effort, it is definitely a tool for understanding what direction the residents want to go.
"I think in the long run our target is that if incorporation was down the road -- 10 or 20 years -- that it would take a community education process," he said. "If there are things the community needs that can only come through taxation of themselves, that's something they have to come to by themselves."
Anyone interested in attending the economic outlook forum can register by calling the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District at 283-3555.
It begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Agrium Meeting Facility located just off the Spur Highway on North Miller Loop. There is no cost to attend.
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