$10,000 check to borough raises questions

Posted: Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly wants to take a closer look at the reasons behind a private citizen’s offer of $10,000 meant to help finance an environmental protection symposium on gravel pits and their operations.

It might not amount to looking a gift horse in the mouth, but there was enough skepticism among assembly members at the Aug. 15 meeting to postpone action on a measure that would have accepted and appropriated a $10,000 “public interest contribution’ from an engineer named Michael Anderson.

The fact that the $10,000 was connected to the dismissal of charges leveled last year against Anchor Point gravel pit operator Clif Shafer and his company, Dibble Creek Rock Limited, appeared to make the assembly uncomfortable.

Shafer and the company had been accused of diverting water from a gravel pit without a state permit, allegedly affecting the water-production ability of a neighbor’s well, and failing to comply with an order from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

According to Alaska Assistant Attorney General Daniel Cheyette, an out-of-court resolution to the case included an agreement to donated $10,000 toward a public symposium on gravel pits to the Kenai Peninsula Borough. But Shafer did not make that donation. Anderson did.

Anderson told the Clarion that he had provided the $10,000 because he knew Shafer and was familiar with the issues in the case. He said the symposium would present an opportunity to educate both sides of the gravel pit debate.

Cheyette said it didn’t matter to the state whose account the money came from.

The assembly, however, appeared to think it did matter.

“This has the appearance of a charade,” said assembly member Dan Chay, of Kenai.

“I would agree with you, Mr. Chay,” said assembly member Margaret Gilman. “There seems to be a mystery here, and I’m not even sure what it is.” She questioned why it might take $10,000 to put on a symposium. “Is it to pay for expert witnesses to come down? Is it for donuts for the peninsula?” she said.

Deb Germano, of Homer, wondered if the symposium could be broadened beyond gravel pits to include water rights.

Chief of Staff Tim Navarre said the money came with no strings attached and the borough clearly could include water rights in a discussion of gravel pits. He also said holding public information forums about the new code could be beneficial.

Assembly member Pete Sprague, of Soldotna, said it wasn’t clear just what was expected of the borough. He said he wanted more information before voting to accept Anderson’s check.

Mayor John Williams suggested the borough develop a plan for a symposium and prepare a letter to Anderson to see if he agreed with it. In his opinion, he said, the highest and best use of the money would be to use it to educate the public about the new gravel pit ordinance.

“I’d go straight to Anchor Point and Chapman School and have a nice little sit-down one evening, put on a big show and tell them all about the new ordinance,” he said.

After a couple of attempts to amend the ordinance to include specific references to water rights, mining and other issues, the assembly voted to postpone action on the measure until the Sept. 5 meeting. Mayor Williams said the delay would give the administration time to contact Anderson about his intent, and to develop a symposium plan.

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