The history of talks about a bridge linking the communities of Sterling and Funny River don’t go back quite as far as James Michener did when writing his novel, “Alaska,” but the idea has been around a long time, Sterling residents were told Thursday evening.
“I’ve found reports that homesteaders on the Funny River side tried to do some things to promote a bridge,” Gary Davis, Kenai Peninsula Borough roads service area director, told about 75 people attending a meeting of the Sterling Community Coalition Group.
Davis had been invited by the coalition to answer questions about the bridge project, which will be on the October municipal elections ballot.
Borough voters will be asked whether they support the idea of a bridge, and whether they are in favor of the borough participating financially in the construction of a bridge.
Davis read from a letter sent to borough Mayor Dale Bagley from the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities stating $5 million in federal money has been earmarked for the Funny River bridge.
The federal grant requires a $1.25 million match from the borough, Davis said.
That money would need to come from the road service area budget, which is used to maintain and improve existing roads all across the Kenai Peninsula.
“My recommendation is that $1.25 million to get $5 million for the project is too much,” Davis said.
He said a preliminary estimate to build the bridge puts the price at $15 million.
“The (Kenai Peninsula Borough) Assembly discussed it and said, ‘Does the public even want the bridge project?’” Davis said.
That’s the question the ballot seeks to answer.
After a brief presentation on the history and current status of the bridge project, Davis opened the floor to questions.
In an almost Micheneresque plot line, one woman asked, “Isn’t there an archeological site on the Funny River side (of where the bridge will cross)?”
Davis said it is possible, but the site might not necessarily be valuable.
A location for the bridge recommended in a 1997 environmental impact study would be from Huske Road off North Scout Lake Loop in Sterling to Rabbit Run Road in Funny River.
Borough school board member Marty Anderson asked if any dollar amount has been calculated as to the value of busing school children to Sterling Elementary from Funny River.
Davis said several reasons have been listed for needing a bridge, including busing school children, routing emergency vehicles from Sterling to Funny River and providing access to community services, but he was not aware of a dollar amount being affixed.
Several people at the meeting asked why the bridge is being planned where it is, and Davis responded that seven locations were looked at initially; the list was pared down to four; and this site surfaced as the most favorable in terms of environmental impact.
A number of homeowners along Betty Lou and Duncan drives, which intersect Huske Road, expressed opposition to the location of the proposed bridge.
“Why did no one come down and talk to us on Betty Lou and Duncan?” asked Roy McFadden, who lives on Duncan Drive.
“We’re the highest number of taxpayers on any stretch of the (Kenai) River,” he said.
Davis said he had visited with Dave Fena and his wife on Duncan Drive and the conversation posed the question, “How old will we be if and when anything is done?”
One woman, who did not identify herself, said, “We need a bridge. It’s getting more and more expensive. We needed a bridge 25 years ago. Why not just build the damn thing?”
Many in the audience mumbled, “Because we can’t afford it.”
“I get out around the borough and many people say we’re gonna build it eventually,” Davis said.
“The question is how to pay for a $15 million bridge,” he said.
A woman who identified herself as Amber Elsey asked if the bridge is defeated in October, what will happen to the bridge project.
“Will it be revisited a few years in the future?” she asked.
“That’s a political question,” said Davis.
“It depends if an assembly member really wants it,” he said.
“If the (environmental impact statement) is updated, will there be another vote whether we want the bridge at the recommended location?” asked coalition Secretary Renae Wall.
“That’s up to the politicians,” Davis said.
He told the group, if they want to show support for a bridge to Funny River, they can get together and put an ad in the newspaper in support of it.
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