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Assembly OKs funds to hire legal counsel: Action part of Nikishka Beach access dispute

Posted: Thursday, March 26, 2009

For more than one year, Offshore Systems Kenai, which operates the Nikishka Dock facility, has blocked Nikiski residents' beach access via Nikishka Beach Road. With an upcoming May trial on the horizon, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is seeking outside assistance.

The assembly appropriated $60,000 of general funds at Tuesday's meeting to hire outside legal counsel to assist the borough in the case.

The two parties involved are the state of Alaska and OSK.

The assembly got involved in the case in August 2008 when it authorized the administration to intervene because the issue involved borough residents.

North Roaders argue that blocking access is a violation of their freedom whereas OSK contends its hands are tied due to federal regulations that force the company to block the public beach access.

The ordinance passed unanimously.

All assembly members voted in favor of Ordinance 2008-19-44, appropriating more than $63,000 to the Bear Creek Fire Service Area for firefighter training and equipment. The funding will be used to upgrade Bear Creek's air filling equipment, to purchase and install diesel exhaust filtration systems on its diesel-fueled engines and to conduct firefighter 1 and 2 training courses.

More than $60,000 of the total amount came in the form of a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The assembly also unanimously passed Ordinance 2009-09, establishing a flood hazard district within the Seward-Bear Creek Flood Service Area.

"Seward is real prone to flooding areas," said Assemblyman Gary Knopp.

He said the problem stems from how difficult it is to remove sediment and gravel that builds in stream beds.

Borough Mayor Dave Carey still has not received word from PacRim Coal LLP concerning its intention to exercise its option to lease Ladd Landing.

Carey said Tuesday that he has been in contact with PacRim via e-mail, and though the company has not yet made a decision Carey said PacRim told him they do plan on making one.

The option expires on April 9.

Called the Chuitna Coal Project, PacRim is exploring a future strip mine coal operation in the Beluga Coal Fields on the west side of upper Cook Inlet. The company has a state lease on more than 20,000 acres of land northwest of Tyonek estimated to contain one billion tons of ultra-low sulfur, sub-bituminous coal.

PacRim hopes to mine that deposit over the course of several decades, beginning with a 5,000-acre section that could produce 12 million metric tons a year for 25 years.

Most of the coal would likely be shipped overseas from a dock facility to be built at Ladd Landing.

The borough first entered a lease-option contract in 1987 with Tidewater Services Corp., which merged with Midgard Energy Co. in 1994. The option has since been assigned to PacRim Coal.

Over the years, the option on the lease has been extended and amended five times, most recently in April 2008.

Mike Nesper can be reached at mike.nesper@peninsulaclarion.com.



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