Cemetery siting heads for vote

Sponsors dig for signatures to get resolution on October ballot

Posted: Friday, March 28, 2008

At least 11 Soldotna residents want to have voters decide where the city should site its cemetery.

Led by former Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley, the group applied for an initiative petition asking voters to approve "a resolution recommending Crystalline Sub Tract 1 as the new location for the city of Soldotna Memorial Park." The site near the Kenai River end of West Redoubt Avenue, has been referred to commonly as the "Redoubt property."

City Clerk Teresa Fahning told the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday the application has been received and certified.

In a letter to Bagley, the clerk said petitions will be available for distribution by petition sponsors by 3 p.m. Tuesday, in the clerk's office in city hall.

Sponsors need to gather 168 signatures 25 percent of the number of votes cast at the last regular election in order for the initiative to be placed on the ballot for the Oct. 7 election.

Fahning said the petition needs to be filed with her office no later than 5 p.m. June 30.

On Feb. 20, Fahning rejected a similar petition "based on legal advice."

The basis of the rejection was that the petition requested an appropriation of a specific piece of real property owned by the city for a specific purpose.

In her rejection letter, Fahning directed the petition filers to Alaska Constitution Article XI, which states in part, "The initiative shall not be used to dedicate revenues, make or repeal appropriations ..." and to title 29 of Alaska Statutes, which does not extend initiative powers to matters restricted under Article XI.

In addition to appropriating city land for use as a cemetery, the ordinance proposed in the initiative sought to appropriate money for a ground and soil analysis of the preferred site.

In its new form, the petition proposes the location of the memorial park, providing the ground analysis finds the property suitable for the purpose of a cemetery.

Last year, the Soldotna Memorial Park Task Force recommended the Redoubt Avenue property as its number one choice for a cemetery.

The city council instead selected the task force's third choice a large tract of city-owned land off the east end of the Soldotna Municipal Airport.

At a subsequent council meeting, Diane Hodges, who has lived in the area of the airport property all her life, said wildlife, especially moose and brown bears, frequent the area all year.

"All the animals use a spring pond there," Hodges said. "It's open year-round."

Hodges testified at an earlier Soldotna council meeting that long-time residents of the neighborhood refer to the city property as "brown bear alley" because of the number of bears traversing the wooded tract on their way to the Kenai River for salmon.

She said the land would not be a safe, peaceful spot for a cemetery.

After receiving much opposition to the Redoubt Avenue site from residents of neighboring Mooring by the River Subdivision, the city council stopped considering the task force's number-one choice and opted for the airport property.

At the request of the city, Donald Warden, director of the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery, visited several potential Soldotna sites earlier this month and provided a comprehensive Soldotna Memorial Park Cemetery site analysis.

In his report, Warden said neither the airport site nor another location he was asked to inspect adjacent to the Sterling Highway east of the city is acceptable as a city cemetery.

Three of six test graves he dug at the airport property were acceptable in terms of soil, but two were unacceptable one because the soil is mostly clay with some sand and the area around the other had been contaminated.

At the Sterling Highway location, Warden said he dug five test graves, none of which was acceptable.

"All test graves were predominantly a mixture of sand and clay with clay being the predominate material," the report said.

Of three "secondary sites" he inspected, Warden preferred the Redoubt Avenue site.

"If you are truly striving for a community cemetery, this is the best location I've seen in Soldotna," his report stated. "The 10 acres also offers a great opportunity for years of cemetery expansion."

During Wednesday's council meeting, Councilman Peter Micciche asked whether Warden was contracted only to perform soil sampling or to offer his opinions on other concerns as well.

"Soil sampling," said City Manager Tom Boedeker.

In her letter to Bagley, Fahning included an estimated schedule of events required for the resolution to be placed on the October ballot, and said Aug. 18 is "the very latest date that I am able to place items on the ballot."

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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