Heavy traffic on area roads the past couple of weeks seems proof enough that the Sterling Highway needs little promotion as a scenic byway, but a consultant championing that cause told Soldotna business leaders Tuesday the byway designation has other merits.
Speaking to about 40 members of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, Nancy Casey of Casey Planning and Design said being designated an Alaska Scenic Byway and eventually a National Scenic Byway would make communities along the Sterling Highway eligible for grant money to improve infrastructure and attractions.
Currently two sections of the highway from its junction with the Seward Highway to Skilak Lake Road and from Anchor Point to Homer are scenic byways; now efforts are under way to designate the remaining middle section as such.
"The primary reason for designating a road a scenic byway is the economic incentive," Casey told business leaders.
"The designation can also make communities eligible for grants for riverbank restoration projects and angler access.
"We see recreation as a principle feature here," she said, speaking of three byway planners spearheading a grass-roots effort for the designation.
Casey said the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will vote Aug. 3 on whether to support the state nomination, and the planners would then put together a byway group to formulate a national byway plan.
When asked after her formal presentation if marketing the Sterling Highway is something peninsula communities want in view of heavy tourist traffic already using the main thoroughfare, Casey said a scenic byway plan would regulate where tourists pull off the road and what they do when they do pull off.
She said the proposal has received some opposition from the communities of Sterling and Kasilof and said some people expressed fears that a National Scenic Byway designation would bring federal controls to how land along the highway is used.
"There would be no federal restrictions, except a ban on billboards," Casey said.
"It would be up to local government to put land-use regulations in place."
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