Help is on the way for Kenai Peninsula residents struggling to dispose of mountains of slash from beetle-killed trees.
Michael Fastabend, the borough's spruce bark beetle coordinator, said Kenai Peninsula Borough officials hope to begin soliciting bids next week from contractors who can provide chippers and grinders to dispose of slash, the woody debris left behind after clearing a section of land.
Borough officials also will solicit proposals from communities, subdivisions and local fire chiefs for slash-disposal projects in areas where the debris left from clearing beetle-killed trees poses a significant fire hazard.
"We'll accept proposals from everyone," Fastabend said. "We hope to identify projects and start by the middle of July. We could start some projects by the first of July."
A committee of technical experts will prioritize projects, taking into account for each how much fuel is available for wildfires, the likelihood that a fire will start and the potential losses if a fire should occur.
Then, the borough will work from the top of the list, matching each project with the least expensive contractor in the area. The borough will announce the availability of chippers over radio stations, through the newspapers and likely with fliers distributed door-to-door in targeted neighborhoods. Then, the contractors will come to chip slash.
Under a similar program, Fastabend said, Anchorage hired private contractors to provide chippers. About two weeks before visiting each neighborhood, the contractors distributed fliers advising homeowners to leave slash on roadside curbs for chipping.
The borough will have to tailor its programs to local needs.
"In Homer, the trees have far more limbs per tree," Fastabend said. "Dragging slash to the highway may not be an option. From Kasilof to Kenai, people only have five or six trees (apiece to dispose of). They certainly can."
The borough will fund the work here using $300,000 from a $2 million federal grant to remove hazardous trees and dispose of slash in the wake of the beetle infestation. The rest of the money has been committed for other purposes, Fastabend said, and $300,000 will not be enough to meet all of the peninsula's slash-disposal needs.
However, borough officials hope for additional funding.
"We'll work through the list as the money becomes available," he said. "We see this as an ongoing project. The major problems are going to be on the south peninsula because there is so much material per acre."
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly accepted the $2 million grant with an April 18 ordinance. It designated:
n $300,000 for chipper and grinder services;
n $300,000 for the Cook Inlet Tribal Council to remove hazardous trees and reforest;
n $200,000 to develop computerized vegetation maps, develop computer models to predict fire behavior for Kenai Peninsula conditions, and promote the FireWise program to teach peninsula residents to clear and make their homes easier to defend against wildfires;
n $1.2 million for removal of hazardous trees.
The assembly confirmed a seven-member Forest Fire Science Technical Committee to decide how to spend that money. The assembly approved the committee's recommendations Tuesday.
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