Bridge will go to vote

Measure will advise assembly on Funny River crossing issue

Posted: Thursday, August 04, 2005

The entire Kenai Peninsula Borough will have the chance to advise the borough through a vote on whether it should build a bridge over the Kenai River connecting the communities of Funny River and Sterling.

On day two of the assembly meeting, the assembly approved resolution 2005-070, which will put an advisory vote on the October borough election ballot on whether the bridge should be built and if the borough should contribute services or funds to the project.

Since the vote is advisory, the outcome will not decide whether the bridge actually gets built.

The resolution was introduced July 12 by borough Mayor Dale Bagley and assembly member Grace Merkes.

The assembly passed it with a 5 to 2 vote. Assembly members Betty Glick, Milli Martin, Merkes, Pete Sprague and Gary Superman voted in favor of the resolution. Dan Chay and Chris Moss voted against. Paul Fischer and Ron Long were not present when the vote was taken.

On the October borough election ballot, voters will be asked two questions:

Should the state of Alaska construct a bridge over the Kenai River, commonly known as the "Funny River Bridge," connecting the communities of Sterling and Funny River?

Should the Kenai Peninsula Borough contribute either funds or services to the Funny River Bridge construction project?

The Alaska congressional delegation appropriated a $5 million federal earmark for the project, which requires a $1.25 million local match.

The assembly approved an amendment to the original resolution that will cite a 1992 cost estimate for the bridge at $9.3 million.

Thirteen people testified on the resolution Tuesday evening.

Many of those who testified in favor of the bridge cited safety concerns saying right now there is only one way out of the area and no alternate escape route in case of a fire.

Those who testified in opposition were concerned that an alternate route with a bridge would negatively impact the flavor of the neighborhood.

Chay asked a couple of the people who testified about the safety hazards in the area why they would move to an area they knew was dangerous. And if they did not get the bridge, would they move out because of the dangers, he asked.

In testimony, Funny River resident Byron Bondurant said the area has become more dangerous over the years.

"We were looking at making it a better community than it is now, and you have an obligation to help us," Bondurant said. "We need a bridge in the worst way, and we will get a bridge."

However, Sterling resident David Morris had a different opinion.

"I built my home in a forest knowing fire would be a danger," Morris said.

He said he built his home there to live in a peaceful place and that a bridge would destroy his neighborhood.

"I feel rather strongly that if the public knew of the costs associated with the bridge, they would vote it down," he said.

Superman said he is supportive of building the bridge. He said he hoped this vote would give some clarity on what the assembly should do in the future.

He said he was concerned that cities not in the road service area could vote on this matter but decided getting it on the ballot was the only fair thing to do.

Speaking on his opposition to the resolution, Chay said that statements in the resolution read like an advocacy statement and failed to reflect the complexity of the situation with balance.

"I think we should be inviting the voters to make an informed choice," he said.

All of the whereases in the resolution failed to reflect what people were failing to say in opposition, he said.

He said the other reason is that the assembly has not yet had "problem solving discussions" regarding priorities on expensive projects.

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