A host of dignitaries, including Ambassador James Pipkin, are expected in Soldotna today for the dedication of the new $2 million Kenai River Center at Mile 1.5 Funny River Road.
The public is invited to the ceremonies, which begin at 2 p.m. Bonnie Golden, assistant to Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley, said there will be a grand opening and ribbon cutting for the river center, a dedication of its library to former borough Mayor Don Gilman, and Pipkin's presentation of a national award to the Kenai River Resource Protection and Education Team, which includes agencies and organizations that have worked to restore and protect the Kenai River banks.
The team includes representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the Kenai Peninsula Borough, the city of Soldotna and the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.
Pipkin, also the director of policy for the Department of Interior, is known for his leading role in negotiations for the Pacific Salmon Treaty. He will present the group with a Coastal America Partnership award. The Coastal America Partnership, which includes numerous federal agencies, was created in 1992 to protect, preserve and restore coastal watersheds by integrating federal, state and local government and private efforts.
The awards program was established in 1997. The 1999 award recognizes seven partnership teams, including work by the Kenai River Resource Protection and Education Team. Restoration of the riverbank at the city's Soldotna Creek Park, completed in 1995, "has provided a model for on-going efforts along the entire Kenai watershed," says a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announcement of the award.
Other teams recognized with the 1999 award include the Duck Creek Advisory Group in Alaska, the Penobscot Watershed Anadromous Fish Restoration Team in Maine, the Galilee Saltmarsh Restoration Team in Rhode Island, the Shamrock Island Restoration and Protection Team in Texas and the Clear Creek Wetland Restoration Team in Texas.
In a letter of congratulations to the Kenai River team, Vice President Al Gore wrote, "Your success demonstrates that in government, partnership can often be better than the sum of its parts. I commend you for your leadership and personal commitment."
The Kenai River Center, which previously occupied a site on the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna, provides one-stop shopping for people seeking permits and information for development along the river. The Kenai Peninsula Borough, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game maintain offices there.
"They've put together a joint permit application, so an application can go from agency to agency rather that someone having to fill out an application for each agency," Golden said.
The new building, which cost nearly $2 million to build, was funded with a $1.75 million state grant and a $171,000 appropriation from the borough. The borough acquired land for the center through a three-way trade. The borough gave the state land for a new highway maintenance yard near Skyview High School. The state gave the site of its former highway maintenance yard to the city of Soldotna, and the city gave the borough land on Funny River Road for the river center.
John Mahorcich, a borough resource planner who works at the center, said the borough has obtained a $100,000 EPA grant to cover the center's operating and maintenance costs for two years. The Kenai River Sportfishing Association donated $10,000 to help open the river center library. Golden said that will be dedicated to Gilman to recognize his efforts to protect the river.
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