Flat-top trees in the cemetery will be minimized under a plan adopted by the Kenai City Council on Wednesday.
Trees will be selectively topped and felled over the next four years, along with a replanting program. The time-line was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration during a visit with city officials.
"We had a really good discussion across the board," said council member Jim Bookey. "I walked in with the thought that it would be an uphill battle with the federal government."
Bookey, the council member most upset over the cutting in-half of trees at the city cemetery earlier this month, said the FAA was very receptive.
"We presented our case, told them how the public felt, and to my surprise, they opened doors to every possibility," he said.
Under the plan, the city has four years to reduce the height of the tallest trees in the cemetery, in order to comply with FAA regulations. Currently, the trees intrude into the airspace of the nearby Kenai Municipal Airport.
Even though the city has come to agreement with the FAA, the airport will still be cited for violating the airspace when it is surveyed on May 3, said airport manager Rebecca Cronkhite.
The city will have the trees surveyed and marked and will cut down any that are too tall.
Controversy erupted three weeks ago when tall trees were cut into flat-topped stumps. Trees that are further away from the airport and not too far into the airspace will be topped. Trees that are removed will be replaced with slower growing trees.
"I don't want to see the trees go, but I don't want to jeopardize the people flying in," Bookey said.
He added that the city does not have to comply with the stricter version of airspace requirements unless they extend the airport in the future. The current requirement is for a 34-to-1 slope off both ends of the runway. That means the minimum airspace elevation rises one foot for every 34 feet from the runway.
The stricter 50-to-1 ratio, where the airspace only rises one foot for every 50 feet of linear distance, was what the topped trees at the cemetery were cut to. The city won't have to comply to that ratio unless the runway is extended.
"Thirty-four-to-one leaves us with trees that are 15-to-20 feet higher than what we have today," Bookey said, referring to the already-cut trees. "They'll be 30-to-35 feet higher on the road side, and that can leave us with a cemetery the public can accept."
Trees encroaching into the airspace outside of the cemetery will be taken care of this year and are not included in the four-year plan with the FAA, Cronkhite said. Depending on how they will look if topped, some trees will be removed altogether.
The city will still have to deal with private property owners whose trees are too tall.
Summarizing the plan for the council, city manager Rick Ross said, "Instead of taking a beating all this year, you'll take your beating over four years."
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