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Airport lot closes to campers

Posted: Friday, September 14, 2007

The piece of property formerly owned by Troy Hodges lies virtually deserted. Two months ago, the gravel lot near the Soldotna Municipal Airport on Funny River Road was packed with RVers eager to try their hands at Kenai River fishing. Now only two motorhomes remain along with a notice from the city telling campers to go elsewhere next season.

Next spring, campers will likely find a fence surrounding the property as Soldotna begins to expand the airport. Soldotna City Manager Tom Boedeker said now that the city owns the property, it will work to realign Funny River Road in order to expand the airport's perimeter.

"There are a lot of plans in the airport master plan for how the property will be developed," he said, adding that the city has about 150 pages worth of plans. "But it won't occur overnight."

Some of those plans include creating hanger and tie-up space so the airport could accommodate more pilots as well as creating a larger commercial lot for people with larger facilities and operations. Boedeker said there is a waiting list of approximately 17 people who are interested in leasing lots for their planes and the property could help free that up, but the city is currently looking to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for additional funding in order to help fence the area.

Boedeker said the city notices have been in place since June, shortly after the city purchased the property from Hodges with grant money from the FAA. Even though the city didn't immediately evict the campers, Boedeker said camping can't continue or Soldotna could lose its grant.

"If the FAA comes down and (the property) is used for camping and not the airport, we may be in a position to repay the money used to purchase it," he said. "Typically the FAA requires (cities) to utilize funds for airports only."

The notices at the campground are posted on red and white parking barriers at various places around the lot and advise campers that the 2007 summer season will be the last year for parking and camping. The notices also direct campers to the visitor's center and Centennial and Swiftwater parks for other accommodations.

Earl Keele, a resident of North Pole, came to Soldotna on July 1 for his yearly fishing trip and said he will stay until the end of the week. After five or six years of fishing in Soldotna, he said he stayed at Centennial Park for his first visit, but was dissatisfied with the way it was kept and ended up at the Hodges property.

"Their bathrooms are not very well kept and the garbage cans will be running over for several days before someone comes around to take care of them," he said, adding that he isn't sure what he and his wife will do for camping next season. "This makes it nice for us that are retired to have a place we can afford."

Boedeker said Hodges developed a gravel pad adjacent to the city's newly-acquired piece of property that he will use as a campground. Even though Hodges' gravel pad is outside city limits, Boedeker said the city is concerned with the large number of people camping directly adjacent to the airport's property.

"It's up to those people if they want to take up his offer of free camping," Boedeker said. "It's outside city limits so there's nothing we can do about that. If annexation goes through that would be in the city and this would be a campground that doesn't have a permit and doesn't meet the requirements for a campground, but that's something we'll have to deal with as time goes on."

Hodges could not be reached for comment.

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.



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