Soldotna council takes on green projects

Posted: Friday, March 12, 2010

The city of Soldotna is going green with the unanimous passage of two environmentally friendly ordinances at Wednesday night's city council meeting.

The council approved an ordinance that establishes a permitting process and structural standards for small wind energy systems in the city. The council also approved the acceptance of $40,000 in stimulus funds from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources that will create a "green parking lot" at the Ralph Soberg House in Soldotna Creek Park and technologically map out Soldotna's stormwater infrastructure.

Council member Dr. Nels Anderson, who sponsored the wind energy bill along with Vice-Mayor J. Shea Hutchings, said that the ordinance encourages people to explore wind turbines as energy sources.

"I think it's designed to allow people to do this and yet also places some limitations for the beauty to be preserved," he said.

The ordinance places restrictions on height, noise, property placement and aesthetics. Turbines may be no more than 80 feet tall, may not exceed more than 85 decibel levels at any time, may not be placed closer to any public right-of-way than its principal structure, and must be painted a neutral color.

Also, all turbines in Soldotna will be assumed to be on Homer Electric Association's power grid regardless of whether the person intends to sell the energy back to the company. For safety reasons, wind turbines must be approved by the electric company to receive a city permit.

Soldotna's wind energy ordinance comes on the heels of Kenai's wind energy code, which was passed last fall.

Soldotna city planner, Stephanie Queen, said that the two cities have similarities and differences in their ordinances.

Both places only require the setback for turbines to be 20 feet from property lines, a less stringent restriction than other cities which mandate setbacks to be at least the height of the turbine. Queen said Soldotna included this to allow residents with smaller lots to take advantage of wind energy.

One difference however, is that Soldotna placed height restrictions for turbines in all zoning districts while Kenai's requirements change depending on the zoning.

Queen said Soldotna's ordinance requires public hearings for turbine permits in residential areas. Applications for turbines that meet all requirements in most non-residential areas require no hearing.

As of yet, the city has received no calls from residents eager to raise turbines, Queen said, but it wanted to enact the ordinance to "get out ahead of requests."

The $40,000 for "green parking lot" and the stormwater mapping projects will be mainly managed by the Kenai Watershed Forum.

Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Forum, said that the organization has contracted with the city to renovate the Ralph Soberg house for future use as its headquarters.

The "green parking lot" is essentially a lawn planted through a recycled plastic grid that supports vehicles and maintains the grass. The idea is that the lot will absorb water and pollutants like oil, gas and antifreeze so it will not run off into freshwater sources.

"It's designed to keep the water on location," he said. "It is a very different concept."

The mapping project will use a Geographical Information System to plot the city's existing stormwater infrastructure as well as identify areas that might benefit from future stormwater retention projects.

"We want to keep pollutants out of the river to keep it as clean as practically feasible," Ruffner said.

Other Council action:

* Approved a $250 donation to Soldotna High School's "After Prom Party."

* Accepted an additional state grant of $11,944 for a stair installation project at the Kenai River bridge.

* Heard a report from Mayor Peter Micciche that the Department of Transportation has identified the Birch Street traffic light proposal, which would provide safer crossing for Soldotna Creek Park, as a "Top 30" intersection needing the improvement.

* Heard from council member Ed Sleater that as a funding mechanism for the Soldotna library expansion a bond issue might go out to voters in a special election this year.

* Held an executive session on collective bargaining unit negotiations.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.



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