Thursday was an auspicious day for the grand opening of the Kenai River Center.
Sun and smiles shone all around as Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley welcomed a passel of officials and citizens to the ceremonial event at Mile 1.5 of Funny River Road across from the Soldotna airport. The occasion celebrated the center's theme of cooperation and honored former Mayor Don Gilman and the Kenai River Resource Protection and Education Team.
"The Kenai River Center is excellence in government," Bagley said.
The center is owned by the borough and houses river-related official functions from numerous agencies. Federal and state officials on hand praised it as a model for interagency cooperation and public outreach.
Marty K. Rutherford, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Re-sources, called the dedication of the center's new, permanent home an important milestone. She praised the foresight of the center's founders, the effective service by its staff and the center's role in transcending political boundaries and preserving resources vital to sustaining the peninsula's economy and quality of life.
"Together, we have all created something very special," she said.
Frank Rue, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, agreed.
Rue listed projects such as the cost sharing and tax rebates for landowner's habitat work and research on salmon habitat needs as valuable contributions. The center has improved efficiency and made management more accessible to the public, he said.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The center is located across from Soldotna Municipal Airport on Funny River Road.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"It is an amazing event when you can have all levels of government ... working together to make something happen," he said. "I appreciate the Kenai Peninsula leading the way."
Phil North, watershed coordinator for the federal Environ-mental Protection Agency, said being at the center has increased his ability to help and respond to the public.
David Allen, Alaska regional director of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, added his congratulations.
"It is about people, and it is about people working together," he said.
The library in the center was officially dedicated as the Donald E. Gilman Resource Library.
Gilman, who served as borough mayor from 1975-80 and again from 1987-96, sponsored the resolutions that led to the creation of the center. When it came time to cut the blue and white ribbon by the main entrance, Gilman had the scissors.
Master of ceremonies Bill Popp outlined what he called Gilman's "incredible career of public service."
Gilman's response was self-deprecating.
"I'm overwhelmed, but I'm not speechless. That would be the day," he said. "I'm glad this is not a memorial."
The idea for bringing all the agencies, permitting and information about the river under a single roof came from constituents who got in trouble trying to negotiate confusing regulations of the past, he said.
"It wasn't my idea," he said. "I just facilitated it."
Special guests at the ceremony were Virginia K. Tippie, director of the Coastal America Partnership, and Ambassador James Pipkin, director of policy for the U. S. Department of Interior and a special negotiator who worked on the international salmon treaty between the United States and Canada.
The Coastal America Partnership, Tippie explained, aims to address coastal resource problems by improving federal and state agency coordination. In 1997 it established an award program to honor teams that use collaboration to achieve results. The partnership chose to give one of this year's awards to the 13-member Kenai River Resource Protection and Education Team, which consists of representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, state Fish and Game, the borough, the city of Soldotna and the Kenai River Sportfishing Association Inc.
Pipkin praised restoration and education efforts based from the center. He presented each member of the team with a plaque and a letter of thanks from Vice President Al Gore.
The group plaque will be displayed at the center.
Enhancing the ceremony was live music provided by Soldotna students.
The Skyview High School Swing Choir performed "The Star Spangled Banner," and children from Terri Carter's class at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School performed the "Alaska Flag Song" and wound up the ceremony with "The Kenai River Blues," an original song created last year as part of an award-winning project.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough opened the center in 1996 to serve as a "one-stop shop" for people needing permits or information regarding government regulation of land adjacent to the river. Personnel from the borough, EPA, and state departments of Natural Resources and Fish and Game work there.
Before moving into its new home earlier this summer, it occupied a leased building on the Kenai Spur Highway.
The new 8,900-square-foot center was designed by Kluge and Associates and built by Blazy Construction at a cost of about $2 million.
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