Going boom in the night

Posted: Friday, August 29, 2008

About the only call the city of Soldotna didn't get over the weekend about loud noises coming from the airport was that the sky was falling.

"We're being bombed," Mayor Dave Carey said one caller told him.

Police Chief John Lucking Jr. said his officers responded to reports of "shots fired."

Lucking, who was substituting for City Manager Larry Semmens during Wednesday's Soldotna City Council meeting, said responding police found the booms were coming from propane canons placed at the airport in an effort to drive away sand hill cranes.

The cranes apparently have been drawn to the area by something unearthed during airport expansion excavation work, and posed a hazard to aviation.

The devices were set up by the Department of Agriculture, working with the airport employees, but police were not notified in advance. To compound the situation, the canons were inadvertently not turned off one entire night.

Though the reports of bombs falling on the city drew a few chuckles during meeting, citizens residing along East Redoubt Avenue who were awake all night because of the loud booms were not as amused. Their neighborhood is directly across the Kenai River from the airport.

Lucking said corrective measures have been taken.

The council also heard from a Kalifornsky Beach Road business owner objecting to terms of an easement agreement she said the city failed to meet.

"The easement states: 'Water and sewer services will be provided to the lot,'" said Claudette Knickerbocker.

She said before agreeing to the easement, she asked if that meant she and her husband would receive city water and sewer without having to pay. They were told, yes.

Knickerbocker and her husband granted the easement so the city could extend water and sewer service to Chugach Drive, but are now being told it will cost between $6,000 and $8,000 to hook up to the services.

She said the city also told her a 25-foot wide strip of her land would need to be cleared of trees. Instead, all trees were removed from a 50-foot strip and Public Works Manager Steve Bonebrake told her he would help her dig up trees to plant.

"I'm sorry. I'm 66 years old and only months from major surgery so that really does not seem like a fair trade for 10,000 feet of land (she gave up)," she said.

At the time the easement was granted, Knickerbocker said she had a "five-point verbal contract with the city," and to date, the only part of the contract that has been fulfilled is saving the trunks of some trees for firewood.

Mayor Carey said he appreciated the civil manner in which the matter was presented to the council and said he would look into it.

On Thursday, City Clerk Teresa Fahning said Councilwoman Betty Obendorf asked that the issue be placed on the agenda for the next Committee of the Whole meeting.

Although no one from the public took advantage of a scheduled comment period on plans to eradicate invasive northern pike from Arc Lake, council members did give the city administration suggestions about what should be done with the lake in the future.

Councilman Peter Micciche said he would like to see the city retain the lake in order to develop a lakeside recreational site.

Councilman Jim Stogsdill agreed that it would be better to retain the lake rather than trade it to another entity such as the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

"If the water continues to test clean, the pike are gone, I agree -- keep it for public recreation," Stogsdill said.

Bill Holt, Tsalteshi Trails board member, said his organization has been interested in adding more ski trails, and would like to be part of any discussion regarding the future of the Arc Lake site.

In other business, Bonebrake told the council all four corners of the new Sterling Highway bridge are having significant erosion problems.

The areas in front of The Crossing Restaurant and Kenai River Motel have been impacted, and Bonebrake said most of the problems are at the Soldotna Visitors Center where the stairway to the river, the fish walk and some trails have been damaged.

"There's definitely going to be a cost to replace them," he said. The state has been notified of the problem.

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

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