Salmon disaster bringing funds to peninsula

Posted: Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Federal dollars aimed at easing the pain the economic downturn in the Alaska salmon industry is having on area communities have found their way to the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Gov. Frank Murkowski recently announced that 63 coastal communities would share $7 million in federal salmon disaster funds. The Kenai Peninsula Borough is in line for more than $623,000, third on the list behind the Bristol Bay Borough's $1.74 million and the Aleutians East Borough's $1.1 million.

Also on the list are the cities of Kenai ($155,035), Seward ($117,135), Homer ($80,914), Seldovia ($3,824) and Soldotna ($500).

Checks were mailed out July 3 from the Department of Com-munity and Economic Develop-ment. The money comes with no strings attached, meaning communities may use it as they see fit. In a press release July 7, Murkowski said the funds would "help pay some of the costs of basic public services that the affected local communities have had to forgo due to a loss of salmon landing taxes, or raw fish taxes."

Now it is up to the borough to figure out where best to apply its minor windfall. Most likely, the borough's grant will go into the general fund, the historic repository of fish tax revenues, said borough Mayor Dale Bagley.

"If there are proposals (for use of the money) that make sense, we will certainly entertain them," Bagley said. "We are not looking at this money as $623,000 for anyone who comes forward with a proposal."

The mayor said he has heard that the Kenai Wild salmon-branding project might propose a use for some of the money. He said he's also heard the United Cook Inlet Drift Association and the Kenai Peninsula Fisherman's Association may be considering a joint proposal, but added he has not seen anything formal.

Messages left for officials with UCIDA and KPFA on Monday were not returned.

Bagley added that the borough has funded the Kenai Wild program in the past. Virtually all borough grant money extended to that program has since been repaid as the Kenai Wild program has received other funding, Bagley said.

Dean Baugh, finance director for the city of Homer, said he doesn't know what the Homer City Council might decide, but he may recommend the money be split between the Homer Port and Harbor Enterprise Fund and the general fund.

"There were impacts (of the poor fishing) to both areas of the city," Baugh said.

Linda Snow, city manager of Kenai, said the Kenai City Council has not earmarked the city's share for anything at this time. The money will likely end up in the general fund, where it will help the city's fiscal dilemma.

"We are carrying a $500,000 operating deficit in the general fund," she said.

The $7 million is a portion of a $50 million program meant to revitalize the salmon industry. Individ-ual fishers suffering because of the ailing salmon industry may be eligible for one-time financial assistance. Another component will provide roughly $13.5 million for new innovations and enhancements in salmon processing, handling and marketing, according to the press release.

The revitalization plan also will dedicate approximately $18 million to a comprehensive, international, multi-year media campaign to market wild Alaska salmon.

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