Proposition 3 would give borough road construction powers

Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2000

You take the high road, and I'll take the low road.

But who's going to build the road?

The borough can, if Ballot Proposition 3 is passed by voters in the Oct. 3 Kenai Peninsula Borough municipal election.

One of three propositions on the ballot, this one asks voters if the borough should adopt road construction powers within borough boundaries.

In 1981, voters gave approval for the borough to adopt road maintenance powers. In 1985, they approved improvement powers in four separate road service areas. And in 1991, those road service areas were consolidated into one single maintenance and improvement area.

"Currently, the roads department is assigned the responsibility of improving and maintaining borough roads," said Gary Davis, borough road director. "But there are a lot of situations where borough roads are not in proper alignment with the right of way."

In those cases, Davis said, there is a line, although it is a fine line, between improvement and construction.

"There are instances and situations in the borough where the existing roadway was built years ago and the right of way plat was approved years later," Davis said. "And the roadway is not located in the center of the right of way, where it should be. Often times, the roadway goes outside of the right of way and is on private

property."

For now, the borough is limited in how those situations can be addressed.

"Currently, we have been able to discuss the situation with property owners and work out an amicable solution," the road director said. "In other words, pretty much the property owners understand our situation and we understand theirs."

Davis said adoption of Proposition 3 also would allow the borough to participate in construction projects with other funding sources, such as the state of Alaska or the federal government, when matching is required.

"But the ordinance gives the assembly pretty strong control of where the construction activity will occur," Davis said.

Jack Brown, who represents the Nikiski area on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, favors road construction powers for the borough. Like Davis, he said passage of this proposition would open up opportunities for the borough.

"Everyone accuses me of making everything I do economic development," Brown said. "But I see the road construction power potentially partnering with private sector firms to build roads. It makes sense for public use and commercial development."

He also cited situations where roads were not built to current borough standards.

"It wouldn't take a lot of money to bring them up to standard," Brown said. "But it would be construction, rather than maintenance."

Referring to a proposed extension to the Kenai Spur Highway that would take it approximately eight miles beyond the current terminus at Captain Cook State Park, Brown said the federal government has set aside between $6 and $7 million for the project.

"If the borough did it, it's my understanding we could do it cheaper because we wouldn't have to follow all the contractor guidelines that others would," he said.

"And the other aspect of this is that when you do a $6- or $7-million project like that, it's going to employ a certain amount of people."

Brown said he isn't worried about the borough operating outside the scope of the proposal.

"I don't see the borough or the administration or the assembly getting off on any tangent with this program," he said."I think all the times we exercise this power would be well thought out, and there would be numerous public hearings so that people on either side of an issue would be given ample opportunity to influence how a decision would be made.

"I look at this as the borough entering into this very cautiously."

Assembly President Bill Popp has a different opinion about the proposition.

"I have some concerns about it," Popp said. "These are pretty broad powers to adopt given (the borough's) current funding.

"I think the proposition was generated by a single issue, the (Kenai Spur Highway) extension," Popp said. "The purpose of the adoption of this proposition was, in part, to provide for the match for the federal money, and while I can see the point that we do have a situation where we cannot build roads at this time, I'm certainly worried that we can't maintain the roads we have without additional construction."

Popp said he believes there are already avenues that the borough could use to accomplish the same goal without broadening the borough's powers.

"I believe we can provide a match through the right-of-way easements under planning powers that we already have. It's a bit of a stretch, but I believe it's defensible," Popp said. "I'm not in favor of self-defeating legislation.

"And if the money's not there, and I don't believe it is, why would we want to adopt road powers?"

With the election next week, Popp said he believes the future of Proposition 3 is "a coin toss right now." He urged people wanting more information to contact their assembly members or Borough Mayor Dale Bagley's office.

Pete Sprague, representing the Soldotna area on the assembly, also opposed the proposition.

"I voted to put it on the ballot for consideration, but I am not in support of it," Sprague said. "I feel that it may be too costly in the long run for the borough.

"As far as maintaining the roads we have, I'm satisfied with that, but I don't believe we need to expand our powers in that area."

Seward assembly member Pat O'Brien said he doesn't believe the borough should be in the road-building business. He also believes there are options to the adoption of road construction powers.

"If it cuts off a corner of someone's property, the borough can buy it or trade for adjacent property," he said. "I think the system has worked fairly well the way it has been."



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