Assembly nixes ferry service study for now

Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2002

Saying the move was premature, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly said no last week to spending $75,000 for a Kachemak Bay ferry service feasibility study.

After several minutes of debate, only District 9 assembly member Milli Martin, who represents Seldovia, voted for ordinance 2001-19-34.

Martin first attempted to postpone action until April 16, agreeing with other members that it wasn't clear whether the $75,000 would be nearly enough to do the kind of feasibility study needed. But postponement failed when others said a month wouldn't be enough time.

Seldovia City Manager Ken Weaver told the assembly that the city's position was to support passage, but he said the ordinance had come as somewhat of a surprise to him. He also said what Seldovia needs is a much broader look at transportation on the south side of Kachemak Bay.

"We would support an interdisciplinary approach for an intermodal study that would involve linkages of the road system, the marine highway system and the airports as well," he said. "Not just look at the ferry by itself."

A broader study, assembly members said, would likely require much more funding than the ordinance provided; such funding might also come from state and federal sources.

Weaver said a complete study might look at rebuilding the fragment of road that goes up to Red Mountain and beyond to the Gulf of Alaska. Marketing for airports is another issue that might be part of an overall study.

Asked if the proposed study went far enough, Weaver said the ordinance lacked the detail appropriate for issuing a request for proposal to potential bidders.

"But I would advocate for a study that indeed looks at the whole system," he said.

Seldovia residents generally support a daily ferry service connecting south-bay communities with Homer and the road system. However, he said, there are some issues connected to the idea that give some people pause. One is the use of Jakolof Bay for ferry docking rather than Seldovia itself. That could lead to the development of Jakolof Bay perhaps to the detriment of downtown Seldovia, he said.

"Seldovia is, in a sense, taking a risk doing this study and proceeding in this direction," he said. "They are concerned about being bypassed."

Assembly members Bill Popp of Kenai and Chris Moss of Homer said they had gotten a lot of calls from water taxi and air service companies worried about a loss of business if a daily ferry is created and about the expenditure of public funds to study and then create such a system.

Weaver said it wasn't Seldovia's intent to compete with tourism-based passenger vessels or aircraft. The aim was to explore more direct daily ferry service that would serve automobiles and cargo traffic.

He also said the historical evolution of transportation systems on the lower Kenai Peninsula tends to alter the nature of transportation enterprise over time. That's already happened to Seldovia.

"The road from Soldotna to Homer was a government subsidy that upstaged the previous transportation system before that, which Seldovia was the center of," he said.

Seldovia once was the center of commerce in Kachemak Bay and was linked to the rest of the Cook Inlet region by water and air routes.

"I don't know of any transportation system that hasn't had a government subsidy," he said.

Weaver said Seldovia is concerned about "being captive to businesses that will hold us dependent so we will not be able to proceed on economic development on our own."

Assembly members indicated they would favor a larger study that looks at overall transportation issues for the south bay. Moss and Popp said, however, they weren't ready to rush into spending this money now, preferring instead to have the borough administration explore a broader study with the state.

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