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Citizen comments help create new foundation for future of peninsula

Economic forums yield plan

Posted: Monday, June 11, 2001

Protecting the quality of life, adding year-round jobs and improving post-secondary education are among the goals common to communities throughout the Kenai Peninsula, says a draft economic development strategy.

In writing the new Comprehensive Economic Develop-ment Strategy, the Kenai Peninsula Bor-ough Economic Deve-lopment District drew from public forums in communities from Seldovia to Seward and from planning efforts in communities such as Cooper Landing and Funny River.

Betsy Arbelovsky, EDD director, said she hopes to finalize the strategic plan and send it to the federal Economic Development Administration by Friday.

"The first goal is to help the peninsula get a view of itself, a regional view, and to work together to get more accomplished," she said.

The second is to meet the requirements of foundations and agencies that fund local development. Many fund only proposals that are part of a strategic development plan, she said.

She said quality of life was an issue in all the public forums.

The draft plan says Kenai residents expressed concern about deteriorating and vacant buildings.

"Older outdated subdivisions require updating," the Kenai section says. "Quality of life issues, such as improving the look of the community and adding walking trails were issues. ..."

Derelict buildings also were a concern in Nikiski, Seward and Seldovia. Soldotna and Nikiski residents wanted more walking trails, and Soldotna residents wanted safe pedestrian highway crossings. Seward residents wanted to complete a sidewalk-promenade project and build pedestrian connections between the downtown and harbor areas.

Transportation was another common theme.

"Although scheduled to minimize negative impacts, road construction does negatively impact tourism, and the economy in general while at the same time, the economy is dependent upon maintaining and upgrading the road system," the draft plan says. "If rail service is extended to the central or southern peninsula, the wear and tear on the road system could be eased. Further, a rail spur could link the peninsula's industrial center, Nikiski, with its freight terminal in Seward."

For south Kachemak Bay, the plan says, "Improvements to the airport, upgrading to daily ferry service between Jakolof Bay, Halibut Cove and Homer could spur economic development."

Likewise, for the south peninsula, "The potential to locate the ferry Tustumena in Homer, the need for a marine railway, as well as upgrades to air transport are all in consideration," it says.

"... Marine trades are growing, if the Williamsport/Pile Bay Road is rebuilt, this industry anticipates further growth."

The Kenai Peninsula and Lake and Peninsula boroughs have lobbied for upgrading the Williams-port/Pile Bay Road, which links Cook Inlet to Lake Iliamna and waterways to Bristol Bay. The plan also says the Williamsport/Pile Bay upgrade is critical to developing western Cook Inlet.

Communities peninsula-wide hope to grow tourism, the draft plan says, and displays at the Kenai and Anchorage airports and the Seward rail terminal could showcase local attractions.

"The peninsula has a unique opportunity in the cultural/historical arena," it says. "... Where else but on the peninsula can a person experience the excitement of the Dena'ina, Alutiiq, Athabaskan, Chugach people, historical Russian, traditional Old Believer, homesteader, fishing, mining and trapping all in the same day they learn about Captain Cook's travels and the epics of the '64 quake, tsunami or tidal waves and volcanic eruptions?"

Arbelovsky said there is broad interest in improving opportunities for post-secondary education and training.

"Medical professionals, oil and gas workers, government employees and heavy equipment operators are getting close to retirement," she said.

That could open jobs for qualified peninsula residents, but there is a hitch.

"A current lack of training opportunities in such areas as nursing, respiratory therapy, radiology, teaching, heavy equipment operations and other positions needs to be addressed," the draft plan says.

Arbelovsky said there is interest in expanding Kenai Peninsula College.

"We have a problem with people leaving Alaska to go to college -- or not going to college and not being able to get the job they want," she said. "Companies have recruited Outside, and young people feel like they have to leave the area to get a good job."

Homer and Soldotna residents suggested building dormitories for Kenai Peninsula College students. Arbelovsky said the college could draw rural Alaska students who have trouble adjusting to urban campuses.

She said there are two kinds of economic development -- bringing new dollars and keeping local dollars here.

"Improved access to low-income medical and dental care could prevent the outward migration of dollars," the draft plan says. Likewise, Soldotna is considering rezoning around the hospital to allow growth in medical services, it says.

Peninsula communities worked to obtain funding for a youth detention center, the plan says, and in addition to helping youth, the center will provide services now obtained outside the borough.

While the proposal for a private prison in Kenai has been controversial, the idea merits study, the draft plan says. The prison would fuel expansion of medical, legal and counseling services, construction of new homes and growth in the retail and service sectors. The peninsula already has two state-run prisons, "and community members report a positive economic impact with little negative effects," the plan says.

That is just a sampling of ideas in the 30-page plan.

"I didn't realize what a huge project it would be," Arbelovsky said.



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