Interesting days indeed in the city of Kenai.
The mayor faces a rare challenge to his 15-year incumbency, two council members are running unopposed for their second election in a row, and four people are vying for a single two-year seat on the council dais.
Kenai Mayor John Williams, who has occupied the mayor's seat continually since reluctantly throwing his hat into the ring in 1986, is facing a challenge from council member Duane Bannock.
Bannock's first political job was his appointment, by Williams, to the city's Planning and Zoning Commission in 1988.
Jim Bookey and Joe Moore are running unopposed for their respective seats on the council. The pair ran unopposed three years ago as well.
Meanwhile, the other council seat available is for two years to fill out the term of council member Bill Frazer, who resigned in July to move to Arizona. Four are seeking that toe-hold into public life: Randy Daly, Barry Eldridge, Amy Jackman and John "Ozzie" Osborne.
All candidates agree that the city of Kenai has been, and currently is, well run. No sweeping changes appear to be on the minds or in the platforms of any office-seeker.
The city council will have several issues to address in the coming year, including coping with a new prison on its doorstep if ballot Proposition 1 passes on Tuesday.
If the proposition passes, the Kenai Peninsula Borough will have permission to go ahead and have developed an 800- to 1,000-bed medium-security private prison just outside the north edge of town.
Wildwood Correctional Facility, the current prison north of town, is connected to the city's utilities, and the new private prison could be, too.
Other issues before the council involve the Kenai River.
The proposed bluff erosion sea wall with coastal trail faces some stiff opposition from some state and federal permitting agencies. While the city will soon receive a half-million dollars in federal funds for design, getting the $10 million, and permission to build it, will be a struggle the new council will be intimately involved in.
Other river-related issues include a 500-acre conservation easement on the Kenai River flats. The easement would grant the Alaska Department of Fish and Game total authority over the land in perpetuity. The current council has tabled the easement until it can be renegotiated.
Near there, is a leg of the Unity Trail, a 22-mile bike path loop between Kenai and Soldotna. The section down Bridge Access Road faces opposition by some worried about endangering habitat for waterfowl and caribou.
About a mile upriver from there, placement of a new public boat launch has created a storm of controversy that the city has become embroiled in.
At the end of the last state legislative session, Rep. Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, pushed through a $350,000 spending bill to purchase property near Cunning-ham Park on Beaver Loop Road for a ramp. The original site was undesirable to the State Division of Parks, and the alternative site was undesirable to neighbors, who feared increased traffic and congestion. The issue is currently at a standstill, pending further talks.
The city stands to receive the launch from the state once it is built.
Like Soldotna, its sister city to the southeast, Kenai is a stable, mature operation with low sales and property tax rates and an experienced city administration, so there is very little in the way of fiscal woes to debate. Instead, Kenai finds itself with money in the bank.
The city has opened its pocketbooks in recent years to promote recreational opportunities in the city, such as installing refrigerated ice at the city's ice rink and building a skateboard park at the Kenai Recreation Center.
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