Right-of-way issue holds up Unity Trail

Rest of project to start being paved

Posted: Thursday, September 05, 2002

The Unity Trail, a 5.3-mile bike path stretching from Kenai to Soldotna along the Kenai Spur Highway, is nearly done, state officials said.

But there is still one portion of the path where work has yet to begin, and it will likely be the unfinished piece of the puzzle when construction winds up at the end of this month.

A quarter-mile stretch of the trail between Strawberry Road and Eagle Rock Drive is awaiting a right-of-way agreement to proceed with construction.

Part of the undisturbed property is on two parcels. One is a partner-ownership evenly divided among Judith and Rob Salo, Kathy and Cliff Heus and Sue and Bill Bacon. The other parcel is owned by the Heuses.

The other portion of the road front between the two side streets belongs to Phyllis Bookey, wife of Kenai City Council member Jim Bookey.

According to Kenai Peninsula Borough records, the primary owner of that property is the Bureau of Indian Affairs West Central Alaska Field office. Phyllis Bookey is listed as the secondary owner of the 33-acre parcel of land on borough records and is the sole name listed on Kenai city property records.

Borough Appraiser Paul Knight said that at some point, Bookey can request that the property be deeded over to her, but, according to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the land currently is tax exempt until it is developed, sold or put into private ownership.

Current borough and city appraisals both value the land at $255,800.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities right-of-way director Kim Rice said the negotiations for the BIA land have been going on for more than a year.

"It's not atypical for this to take months and months," Rice said. "Everything has to be signed off by BIA or it's not valid."

Murph O'Brian, assistant regional director for the DOT said the property is undergoing a new appraisal and that is what is holding up the process of clearing the right of way.

"The person that has the right of way doesn't want to deal directly with our office. The BIA appraisal is complete, but the owners made a request that the BIA not contact them for 10 business days," O'Brian said Aug. 26. "We're doing everything we can to facilitate this. But at the same time, we have to respect the wishes of the owners."

Bookey declined comment.

Kathy Heus said she suspected there might be some issue with the BIA land, but said she was never approached by the state about acquiring the right of way for her holdings. She said she didn't mind making room for the path.

"We were wondering what was holding up construction, but that is what we presumed," she said. "The state has not contacted us regarding the right of way. We have no problem with the trail."

Rob Salo, husband of former state Sen. Judy Salo, said the state never contacted him or his other partners about needing clearance and said he thought there was a 100-foot space extending from the road alongside his parcel that might be state right of way. He said he welcomed the bike trail past his property.

"I think it's an enhancement to our property," he said. "But I don't control the will of other people."

Rice said she was uncertain of whether there was a need for negotiations with the other property owners, but she said the state determined rights of way by when the property was entered and that she was available for any questions.

"They should contact us," Rice said. "If there's a problem, we'll look into it."

Other Kenai residents offered varying opinions.

Doug Jung lives near the trail and said he's concerned about children using the path having to cross the street to continue riding.

"My kids will most likely use it," he said. "I'd hate for them to have to ride their bikes on the highway."

Dale Sandahl also lives near the unfinished portion of the path and said he had hoped to see it finished by summer's end. But he said he had no trouble making do with what was finished.

"I ride my bike and that's my regular loop," Sandahl said. "The rest of the trail looks so nice, it sure would be nice if they had (finished). But hey, I'll swing out on the shoulder."

O'Brian said the project will continue through next year, but paving will begin on the other parts of the trail sometime this month. He said Oct. 1 is usually when DOT will try to close down the project, but the remaining portion of the trail that isn't finished will have to wait until thaw next year.

"If the allotment issue is resolved, we have a chance to complete the embankment and complete that section next spring," he said.

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