Eager to transform their vision of Nikiski ten years from now into a road map to make it happen, more than 50 North Peninsula residents fine tuned a Saturday brainstorming session into three priorities:
n Removal of empty and collapsed buildings and creation of jobs to get it accomplished;
n Development of a deep-water port and cargo hub; and
n Preserving the lifestyle currently enjoyed by north peninsula residents.
The day-long event was organized cooperatively by community groups and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Economic Development District. It mirrored forums already held in Kenai and Soldotna.
"We're a young organization and only been around nine months," said Fred Miller of the North Peninsula Community Council, one of the forum organizers. The council was formed to help Nikiski qualify for federal, state and private dollars available to unincorporated areas. "And I think we're headed down a road where we can represent the community.
"A (community action) plan will ultimately allow us to get into the bucket of dollars that may be available for small projects," Miller said.
Mark Weatherstone, with the Resource Conservation and Devel-opment District, said, "Once (the plan is) developed, folks can tap into various sources of funding, looking not only at resource issues, but all community development-related issues within the north peninsula area."
Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage, encouraged the process of putting together a "formalized plan of attack" for Nikiski's future, a community the Anchorage resident called "one of the greatest places to live."
"Economic stability is going to come to the community," Ward said. "Now it's a matter of the people in this room guiding how it's going to happen. It will happen quicker with the proper motivation and people understanding where they're headed."
Jack Brown, Nikiski's voice on the Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly, gave an update on a recent trip to Washington, D.C., made by Brown and other assembly members. One of the priorities presented in Washington by the peninsula delegation was a Cook Inlet terminus for the proposed North Slope gas line.
"I'm hoping we'll hear an announcement very soon that says the Nikiski route is by far the most economical," Brown said. "I think science and an analysis will show that."
Brown used the condition of the Kenai Spur Highway to highlight the importance of Saturday's economic outlook forum.
"We have a road out there that was constructed years ago," he said. "When it was built, it was constructed very well. But you know, we've just left that road alone and it's deteriorating. The same thing can happen to our community. It's time to look at our community."
A round of laughter and applause followed Brown's suggestion that federal funding to upgrade the highway might be available if it were renamed the Ted Stevens or Don Young Highway, after two members of Alaska's congressional delegation. Stevens is known for his support of many Alaska projects which resulted in the recent name change of Anchorage International Airport to Ted Stevens International Airport. Young heads the transportation committee.
Donna Peterson, superintendent for the borough school district, focused on Nikiski as a safe, smart and special community.
"Nikiski comes out of the woodwork when we have a problem," said Peterson, a Nikiski resident. "I don't know where everyone is when everything is going OK. That sense of neighborliness needs to translate from when we have a problem to planning. Have you ever asked for help in Nikiski and not gotten it? Huh uh. In this little radius, you have more horsepower than anywhere else in the world."
Mike Nugent, plant manager for Agrium's Kenai Nitrogen Operations, said the company is proud to be part of Nikiski.
"I would like to encourage you to think about what you've done here today and discover what you want this community to be," he said. "Speaking on behalf of Agrium, we will support you in your efforts, wherever you want to go with this."
Donnis Thompson and Jim Arness received standing ovations after sharing stories of homesteading and early economic development in the area.
"When I walked in here, I heard you talking about a vision," said Thompson, who homesteaded in the area in 1953. "My vision is just to be here 10 years from now. The best thing about the good old days was just that I was a whole lot younger. I don't know what the future of Nikiski will be. I know there'll be change. I know it will still be large, beautiful and full of lakes. And I just hope I'm here to enjoy it."
In closing, Arness gave the audience a view of Nikiski's future through eyes that have watched the area develop since the 1940's.
"I think the prison is a wrong move for a lot of reasons," he said of a private prison project currently being considered by the borough assembly. "The greatest reason of all is past history. Juneau said if you will start a fire department, you'll get $1,000 per person. They said if we'd start a swimming pool, we'd get so much per person to maintain it. Everything the state of Alaska has agreed to give money to, they've cut back.
"The point is that if you depend on the state to come up with the money for this private or semi-private prison, you might get $1,000 per head the first year, but they'll cut back on it."
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