Anchor Point to decide harbor issue Tuesday

Posted: Friday, September 27, 2002

In response to a petition by Anchor Point-area residents, the Kenai Peninsula Borough voted in June to form the Anchor Point Port and Harbor Service Area contingent upon voter approval at the polls.

Tuesday, residents of the proposed service area, which would have the same boundaries as the existing Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Service Area, get to decide if they want to form the service area for the purpose of raising money for and conducting a port and harbor feasibility study. Voters also will elect a five-member service area board.

If approved, ballot Proposition No. 5 would formally establish the service area and seat the new board members.

If the measure fails, the service area would not be created and the elected board members would not be seated.

Two alternatives for a facility have been discussed. One would build a $15.5 million, 99-vessel small boat harbor. The other conceives a $5.1 million protected boat launch facility.

Proposed locations include a site three-quarters of a mile south of the mouth of the river and a spot about eight miles north of Anchor Point at Cape Starichkof just south of Stariski Creek.

For now, however, the feasibility study is the sole goal of the service area. Officials with the U.S. Corps of Engineers have said a study would consider cost, construction, maintenance and operations and might take three years to complete. They estimated the study could cost over $1 million.

It is anticipated that the service area would apply for state and federal funding to help pay for the study. The 2002 federal budget earmarked $50,000 for matching purposes.

Anchor Point residents promoting the service area and study have proposed a property tax levy of up to .1 mills. That money would be used to help cover administrative costs associated with fund-raising for the feasibility study. The levy would raise about $12,871 a year.

However, that mill rate is not a hard and fast limit, according to Borough Attorney Colette Thompson. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly can set the tax levy wherever it deems necessary without asking voter approval.

That concerns opponents of the port and harbor service area, who say administrative costs ultimately could go higher than anticipated. They also worry that actually building, operating and maintaining a harbor or launch facility would require much higher property taxes.

Supporters say the harbor would be a boon to Anchor Point's tourist- and recreation-dependent economy and provide local jobs.

At a public hearing in June, Tom Clark, chair of the Anchor Point Chamber of Commerce, said there is a serious safety issue to be addressed. Thousands of boat launches are made off the beach at the river's mouth each year, primarily charter and recreational fishing craft, he noted. Others said a typical day sees some 30 launches at Anchor Point and another 65 per day at Deep Creek.

"I would prefer a small boat harbor, but I would go for anything, including a protected boat launch facility," Clark said.

Opponents have argued that a harbor could cause environmental damage to the Anchor River. Further, they have argued that the currents in Cook Inlet are too strong and the proposed locations ill-suited to major harbor facilities.

Opponents also have said that the proposed service area was too large, and that a harbor or launch facility would benefit only a small percentage of the roughly 2,400 service area residents paying the cost.

Mike O'Meara, a potential service area resident who lives off the North Fork Road, said a small number of Anchor Point residents succeeded in getting the assembly to consider placing the issue on the ballot. But the harbor idea doesn't have widespread support.

"It's an old idea that's been around a long time," he said in June. "The difference now is that it has come back with a vengeance."

O'Meara is a candidate for the service area board.

The service area ordinance creating the ballot measure does not include any reference to actual construction, operation or maintenance. The service area board would only have the power to facilitate a feasibility study.

Clark said the service area is really a mechanism for acquiring grants and that he does not anticipate service area residents paying for actual construction. If that if the feasibility study supports going ahead with the project, he suggested, the service area boundaries could be redrawn. Another alternative -- which has been talked about before -- would be for Anchor Point to incorporate. That idea could be revisited, he said.

Meanwhile, Corps officials have voiced skepticism about the feasibility of a harbor facility, or even a launch facility.

Ken Turner, a project manager with the Corps, said the feasibility study would look at both a harbor and a launch facility, but added that "a quick and dirty look" at the proposals showed the economics to be marginal at best.

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