Efforts to battle forest fires before they erupt in the wide expanse of dead spruce forest got a boost when the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted to accept a $1 million congressional appropriation aimed at mitigating fire hazards.
Reappropriating that money in an ordinance, however, proved a bit more difficult.
After much debate and the defeat of an amendment that would have appropriated even more money, the assembly voted to approve $375,000 for Funny River Emergency Services Inc. for design and construction of a fire station on Funny River Road.
Members also approved splitting the remaining $625,000 among various fire services in the unincorporated bureau. The money can be used for so-called bricks-and-mortar construction needs or other fire-fighting equipment.
The new Kachemak Emergency Service Area got $300,000, and the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Medical Service Area received $100,000. Those service areas have said they intend to move forward on fire station projects.
Nine other communities and service agencies got $25,000 each. They included, Port Graham, Nanwalek, Ninilchik, Central Emergency Services, Nikiski Fire Service Area, Hope, Moose Pass, Cooper Landing and the Bear Creek Fire Service Area.
The amounts going to some communities might have been more, however.
A substitute ordinance attempted to include and distribute $275,000 in interest earnings from the federal funds already received by the borough for spruce bark beetle fire hazard mitigation. There are no strings attached to the use of that money, but borough policy has been to use it for further mitigation efforts. Had the substitute been passed, the total appropriated would have been $1,275,000.
Under the amendment, the Funny River project still would have received its $375,000. Kachemak Emergency Services, however, would have received $275,000, not the $300,000 eventually appropriated. On the other hand, Anchor Point would have gotten $50,000 more, or $150,000 total.
In addition, Nanwalek's and Hope's appropriations would have jumped from $25,000 to $50,000. Meanwhile, Moose Pass and Cooper Landing, which eventually got $25,000 each, stood to receive four times that much in the substitute. Finally, the substitute would have added two more recipients -- Nikolaevsk and Lowell Point, which would have gotten $25,000 each.
Several members objected to what they saw as a last-minute change to the ordinance that the public was not aware of.
Assembly member Milli Martin, who represents the horseshoe district surrounding Homer that includes territory from Anchor Point to Nanwalek, said she was troubled by the laydown amendment that, because of time constraints, had to be voted on that night.
"I know that every penny that's in here is badly needed. I don't argue that," she acknowledged, adding she preferred to stay with the original appropriation list rather than make the changes without going through a more public process.
"I would see nothing wrong with us directing the administration to take a look at, perhaps, dispensing some of these other funds to those areas that do need some additional funding. But I'm not entirely comfortable voting on this as a laydown where the public really hasn't had a chance to peruse it, too."
Assembly President Tim Navarre of Kenai took issue with Martin and others who opposed adding the funds to the ordinance. Navarre said he wrote the substitute in an attempt to get funds to as many communities threatened by the dead forest's potential to burn as he could.
Navarre pointed out that the original ordinance, itself on a fast-tracked hearing-to-passage route, had been written by the administration with no assembly input, but that Mayor Dale Bagley said in an accompanying memo that the assembly could make changes if it deemed them necessary.
The prime objective, the mayor said, was to move the money into the hands of fire-fighting agencies as quickly as possible. Navarre said making the changes was a legitimate move and, in fact, would have added $75,000 to Martin's district alone.
"I tried to accommodate in my substitute the mayor's recommendations as well as what I knew the intent was for us when we went back to Washington, D.C., to fight for some brick-and-mortar funds for these fire service areas," he said.
Navarre also said he was concerned that $300,000 was going to Kachemak Emergency Service Area, an area only recently created, when other service areas and communities had been requesting funding for a longer time. Shaving $25,000 of KES's appropriation and adding the interest money, actually spread the available funds further and to more entities.
In the end, however, Navarre could not convince other members of the assembly to appropriate the additional interest money. Only he and assembly member Ron Long of Seward voted for the substitute.
Navarre said later he was disappointed with Martin and the others, and he and Long will introduce an ordinance to appropriate that money as quickly as possible.
The assembly also introduced an ordinance that would place a $12 million solid waste bond measure on the fall ballot. The ordinance gets a hearing Aug. 6. If approved by voters, the borough would be authorized to issue $12 million in bonds. Borough officials have said that likely would be done in two sales, the first in 2003, the second in 2008. The money would allow the borough to build two waste disposal landfill cells complete with pollution controls.
In other business, the assembly:
Adopted an ordinance appropriating $629,000 to the Tote Road-Echo Lake Road natural gas line utility district.
Adopted an ordinance authorizing the negotiated sale of Tract A in the Arness Dock Subdivision near Nikiski High School to Offshore Systems-Kenai.
Approved a resolution awarding a contract for professional design services for South Peninsula Hospital's master plan-schematic design to Livingston Slone Inc. of Anchorage in the amount of $174,797.
Approved a resolution approving an agreement between Kachemak Emergency Service Area and the city of Homer for fire and emergency medical services. The six-month contract is for $95,800.
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