Road rage: Council upset with byway vote

Posted: Sunday, August 29, 2004

The Soldotna City Council on Wednesday criticized the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly for failing to support a proposed plan to designate the Sterling Highway as a state Scenic Byway.

Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey testified before the assembly last week in support of the plan. He told the council Wednesday that he was dismayed at the final decision and the treatment he and others who testified in support received at the meeting.

"I was not very pleased," Carey told the council.

Carey and others from local organizations including the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council and the Kenai River Sportfishing Association spoke in favor of the plan, which would be the first step toward having the highway designated part of the National Scenic Byway program. Supporters said the assembly's blessing was vital to getting the state designation and had hoped the assembly would back the plan.

However, the assembly vote on support ended in a tie, meaning the measure failed. Assembly members who voted against the measure cited a list of reasons, including lack of public support, possible new government regulations, an already high level of tourism on the peninsula and the fact that the Sterling Highway corridor between Cooper Landing and Anchor Point isn't all that scenic to begin with.

Carey said he took offense to a number of the comments made by assembly members, especially those made by assembly member Grace Merkes of Sterling, who criticized Carey and others who testified as only being at the assembly meeting because they were paid and said the highway wasn't deserving of the scenic label.

"To me, the Sterling Highway is not this beautiful scenic highway that you would like it to be," Merkes said at the time.

Carey told the council that he confronted Merkes at a recent Alaska Municipal League meeting and told her he was not pleased with her comments especially those saying he was only at the assembly meeting because he was paid to do so.

Merkes was one of four members who voted against supporting the designation. Joining her were Paul Fischer of Kasilof, Betty Glick of Kenai and Gary Superman of Nikiski. Voting to support the designation were Pete Sprague of Soldotna, Dan Chay of Kalifornsky Beach, Milli Martin of Diamond Ridge and Chris Moss of Homer. The potential tie-breaking voter, Ron Long of Seward, was absent.

After hearing Carey's comments, Soldotna council members said they were extremely disappointed with the assembly's action, as well. Earlier this year, the council voted unanimously to support the designation, saying it would boost tourism and heighten awareness of the area.

"I'm dismayed with the comments that were made," council member Sharon Moock said.

Moock joined her fellow council members in asking that Carey draft a letter to the assembly stating its disappointment and asking that the assembly reconsider its decision.

"I hope that we don't give up," council member Lisa Parker said.

The letter will be sent to the assembly, and Carey indicated he will attend the next assembly meeting, at which time the proposal to support designation of the highway will be up for reconsideration.

Sprague attended Wednesday's council meeting. He told the council he doesn't believe the byway idea is dead and said he's hopeful that when the assembly reconsiders its decision, it will be more open to supporting the designation.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Sprague told the council.

In other action Wednesday, the council:

Recognized the Soldotna Little League 9- and 10-year-old baseball team for winning the Alaska State Tournament held in July in Fairbanks.

Set a public hearing for Sept. 8 to discuss revising the city's water and sewer rates.

Ratified a three-year collective bargaining agreement with IBEW Local No. 1547. The agreement extends the city's current contract with the union.



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