Soldotna residents moved one step closer to finally getting a cemetery Tuesday evening, when the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly tentatively approved a land swap that would give the city title to its first choice of locations for the planned facility.
Before the assembly made its decision, however, a number of residents from the neighborhood where the proposed cemetery will be located spoke out against the land deal. John Dombovy said he has circulated a petition signed by approximately 90 percent of residents in the "flower street" neighborhood located across West Redoubt Avenue from the proposed site. Dombovy said neighborhood residents aren't against a cemetery, but are concerned with potential contamination from the facility.
"Not a one of them are against a cemetery in the city of Soldotna," Dombovy said. "They are just against the site."
Residents said they are worried that formaldehyde and other embalming chemicals could end up in their drinking water.
Members of the city's cemetery task force, however, said they took an in-depth look at the planned site, brought in a professional consultant and discussed all potential issues related to the site. The task force has been looking into the issue of building a cemetery in town for several years.
"It would be a safe location," said task force member Barb Jewell.
Task force member Jim Fassler said he's looked into groundwater contamination from cemeteries and said he believes the risk is simply not there. He told the assembly that members of the task force wouldn't endorse a plan they thought would be harmful to the city.
"I don't want to leave something for my children and grandchildren to clean up," Fassler said.
Despite the contamination concern, most of the debate on the assembly side of things centered around whether to ask for land in trade or simply convey the West Redoubt site to the city for $1.
Arguing in favor of a conveyance was Soldotna assembly member Pete Sprague. Sprague said that, because the cemetery could be utilized by all borough residents, the assembly would be right to essentially donate the property.
"It would benefit the borough as well as the city," Sprague said.
But other assembly members argued that the borough should at least get some land in exchange for its West Redoubt property, which is appraised at $139,000. Kenai assembly member Betty Glick said that to simply give the land away would not be in the best interest of all borough residents.
"I don't think in good conscience we can justify that to the rest of the borough," Glick said.
Sprague's amendment to convey the land to the city for $1 failed by a 3-6 vote, with only Sprague, Milli Martin and Grace Merkes voting in favor of the plan.
Instead of donating the land to the city, the assembly instead went with a plan to trade the West Redoubt site for city land near Arc Lake, which sits adjacent to the borough's landfill. Although the Arc Lake land is only appraised at $55,000, assembly members said they were more comfortable at least getting something in exchange for the cemetery land.
There are still a couple issues to work out before the swap goes through. The land is currently zoned as recreational, and that tag must be lifted before the deal can go through. Once the recreational restriction is lifted, borough Mayor Dale Bagley could still decline to offer the trade to the city. If he does offer the trade, the city would have one year to accept the deal.
If the borough takes title to the Arc Lake land, borough land management officer Paul Ostrander said it likely will be used to provide a buffer zone for the landfill.
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