'Marlboro Forest' faces the sickle

Posted: Friday, August 22, 2008

Three feet, four feet, six feet, eight.

Rather than let Kenai council members debate ad infinitum about how much underbrush should be cleared behind the high school, Mayor Pat Porter on Wednesday suggested it would be better to leave the matter to the judgement of the city administration.

Kenai Central High School's assistant principal, Loren Reese, had approached the council asking if the underbrush could be cleared from a wooded area off the parking lot south of the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska.

Saying the area has come to be known as "Marlboro Forest," Reese indicated he did not seek to have it clear cut, just cut to about five feet high so he could observe students' activity when they go there between classes.

Because the issue of clearing brush has stirred recent controversy, City Manager Rick Koch asked for clarification on how much cutting should be done. The city had received complaints earlier this year that Firewise brush cutting around Kenai was depleting vital moose browse.

Councilman Hal Smalley advised the manager to determine first whether the property belongs to the city or to the Kenai Peninsula Borough. Smalley also suggested Koch check with the neighbors who live across Lawton Drive from the wooded area before commencing any work.

Councilman Bob Molloy echoed Smalley's suggestion that neighbors be consulted, and Porter said it was her opinion the school official was talking about a student safety issue, not aesthetics.

The debate then began over how much cutting should be done. One councillor said underbrush should be cut up to three feet above the ground, another said four feet. Koch said Firewise cutting is clearing up to eight feet off the ground, and Reese stood up saying five feet -- about his shoulder height -- would suffice.

Councilman Mike Boyle said, "I would like to tread lightly in areas of clearing."

Porter then asked the council to indicate by nodding if the city administration should proceed. Koch was given the OK.

Another issue generating debate at Wednesday's council meeting was a resolution introduced by Boyle proposing the city rank building a drift boat pullout as its highest capital improvement priority for fiscal year 2009 and 2010.

As the council's liaison to the Harbor Commission, Boyle said the commission discussed the project at length and unanimously supported the idea of a drift boat pullout on the lower Kenai River.

"Drift boat fishing is going to be increasing and some predict, someday it may be the only fishing on the Kenai River," Boyle said.

Councilwoman Linda Swarner said she felt it would be more appropriate to set the priorities when the council discusses capital projects.

"I have had no outcry from the public for a drift boat pullout," Swarner said. "I have had a few individuals against (using city funds to build the pullout)."

Boyle said, "The Harbor Commission and Parks and Recreation both have said we've talked about this enough."

Molloy said he would support the measure if it were "one of the highest" priorities for 2010, rather than "the highest."

Councilman Rick Ross said the drift boat pullout "should be a state project on the river," and asked Koch where the project ranks on the state priority list.

Koch said the city has made progress in working with the state on the idea, and said following a study on the Kasilof River, $2 million in federal funding has been budgeted for a drift boat pullout on that river.

After meeting recently with the deputy commissioner of Fish and Game, Koch said the state intends to spend $150,000 on a study to determine the need for a drift boat pullout on the lower Kenai River.

Then the city could "go to the federal government armed with the study," Koch said.

Smalley said the money should come "from state and federal dollars," and he and Ross recommended tabling the issue until after the council conducts its capital projects work session. The resolution was tabled.

A companion ordinance re-appropriating $500,000 from the grant-funded street and sewer capital project fund to a drift boat pullout project fund failed on a 2-5 vote.

In other business, the council approved a lease application from the Alaska Court System for a parking lot to be built north of the Kenai Courthouse on Trading Bay Drive.

City Clerk Carol Freas reported that a half dozen municipalities will have propositions on the October ballot similar to Kenai's asking if municipal officers and candidates for municipal office should be exempt from the state requirements regarding financial disclosure and conflicts of interest, and instead be required to file a city financial disclosure statements, according to municipal code.

Others putting the question to voters will be Seward, Delta Junction, Sitka and Wrangell as well as the boroughs of Haines and Kodiak.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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