Byway plan falls by the wayside

Posted: Thursday, September 09, 2004

By a 4-5 vote, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly failed to reconsider its earlier decision not to back a plan to designate the Sterling Highway between Cooper Landing and Homer as a state Scenic Byway.

At its last meeting, the assembly voted 4-4 on the issue of backing the controversial designation. Since a majority of assembly members did not favor the plan, it failed.

Following that vote, assembly member Milli Martin of Diamond Ridge informed the assembly she would bring the issue back before the assembly. Tuesday, she did just that, in front of the full assembly, but was again thwarted when Seward's Ron Long who missed the previous vote failed to support reconsideration.

The vote means the push to eventually bring the highway into the National Scenic Byway program is now essentially dead.

Supporters had hoped that with assembly support, they could get state designation as a first step toward national recognition. However, without the support of the assembly, it's unlikely such designation will take place.

Ann Marie Holen is the special projects coordinator for the city of Homer. Homer led the push to get the designation for the highway, even going as far as securing grant funding to help facilitate the project. On Wednesday, Holen said the assembly's decision leaves supporters with few options.

"We were told that we could not get state designation without the borough's approval, and we could not get national designation without the state's," Holen said.

Holen said she never expected the level of opposition to the project, which she believed would have benefited all communities along the route.

"It's been frustrating all along, because the opponents have seemed impervious to reason," she said. "We had hoped to accomplish something that would benefit the whole Sterling Highway and the communities along the way."

Martin said she also was disappointed with the assembly's decision, and that she thinks designation would be a boost to the area.

"I still think it has merit," she told the assembly.

At its last meeting, assembly members Paul Fischer (Kas-ilof), Betty Glick (Kenai), Gary Superman (Nikiski) and Grace Merkes (Sterling) voted against the plan.

Opponents said at the time that designation would only serve to open the door to greater government regulation and increased traffic through the affected areas namely, Sterling and Kasilof.

Voting to support it were Pete Sprague (Soldotna), Dan Chay (Kalifornsky Beach), Martin and Chris Moss (Homer). That meant that Long, of Seward, was left as the swing vote, and supporters had hoped he'd go along with the designation.

Supporters of the plan have said it would help bring more tourists to the area by increasing the national visibility of the route.

Following the meeting, Long said he could not support reconsideration because it did not appear as if Sterling and Kasilof residents favored the plan.

"They didn't want it," he said.

The Seward Highway from Anchorage to Seward is designated as part of the national program, and Long said he's seen no negative effects from the designation.

"I live in an area that's been designated and I haven't seen any terrible consequences," he said. "But I have seen benefits."

However, he said he didn't want the project to be something the communities at each end of the byway were imposing upon those in between.

"It's got to be something that's generating good local support in the area," he said, "Not just Homer and Seward ramming it in."

Martin said she's hopeful supporters of the plan don't give up and said she believes if more effort is put into explaining the pros and cons of the designation, it will eventually gain public support.

"I think there needs to be more understanding of what's at stake or what's not at stake," she said.

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