Unity Trail issue keeps path from completion

Posted: Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Summertime on the Kenai Peninsula is the perfect time for biking, jogging or enjoying a leisurely stroll with loved ones.

And that is what many central peninsula residents have been able to do this summer by taking advantage of the Unity Trail, the 5.3-mile bike path stretching from Kenai to Soldotna along the Kenai Spur Highway.

But right-of-way negotiations with a private land owner have slowed completion of the pathway, and the trail will have a gap until next summer.

Most of the trail was completed early last month, with only minor signage work remaining to be done. This has allowed access to recreation on a paved pathway at a safe distance from highway traffic reaching speeds of up to 55 mph.

There remains a hold on the trail completion that Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities officials say is nearing a resolution.

A quarter-mile stretch of the trail between Strawberry Road and Eagle Rock Drive in Kenai has gone untouched since the project began last year.

The portion of this area that has held up progress is the 33-acre parcel of land belonging to Phyllis Bookey and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The state road agency has been unable to secure the right-a-way agreement with Bookey to continue construction.

DOT Assistant Regional Director Murph O'Brien said negotiations have continued with Bookey, and offers for the land valued at $255,800, according to city of Kenai and Kenai Peninsula Borough appraisals recently have been exchanged. He said a resolution is in the works.

"We have received a counter offer that we're reviewing to see if we can make it work," O'Brien said.

Bookey declined comment.

Three different parcels occupy that undisturbed portion of land, but two of those parcels do not pose obstacles to the state project.

Kathy and Cliff Heus own one parcel and another is evenly divided among the Heuses, Sue and Bill Bacon and Judy and Rob Salo.

Judy Salo, former state senator, said she was certain there was a state right-of-way space between the group's parcels and the adjacent highway, but she said she had been contacted by several people curious about their involvement in the matter.

"We've gotten calls from a few people who think we are the obstacle," Salo said. "But I'm relatively sure that on our piece of property, the right of way is adequate to accommodate the trail."

Heus said she also received a call.

"I did have a call from (state Sen.) Tom Wagoner, because he did have somebody call him," she said.

Salo and Heus said they were anxious for the trail to be completed, however.

"I hope that we get the bike trail there soon," Heus said.

O'Brien said even if the issue is resolved soon, DOT would either have to extend the current contract it has with Roadbuilders Inc. or get an amendment to the contract.

"There was an early July deadline," he said. "That probably means the construction will happen next summer."

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