River, economy are top priorities

Kenai candidates focus on growth, hydrocarbons

Posted: Friday, September 28, 2007

As most eyes in Kenai are focused on the city's economic future with the anticipated arrival of two new big box stores, one of three candidates running for two open city council seats has turned his attention to the Kenai River.

"I really believe there are many important issues facing the city, but in my mind (the biggest single issue) is the Kenai River," said incumbent Councilman Joe Moore.

"That's the reason Kenai exists," he said, adding that the river was here even before Big Oil.

Moore, who is running with fellow incumbent Councilman Barry Eldridge and challenger Hal Smalley for the two vacancies, is one of a handful of local government representatives working to find a method for curbing high July hydrocarbon levels from the Kenai River caused by outboard engines on fishing boats.

"The river runs right through it. The city of Kenai can't ignore it," Moore said.

He also said 75 percent of the king salmon fishing on the Kenai River takes place within the city limits of Kenai.

Eldridge, who has been a member of the city council since 2006 and has been a member of the Kenai Economic Development Strategy (KEDS) group for about six years, said, "In reality, the most important issue is keeping on the council those people who are promoting economic development and attracting Wal-Mart and Lowe's to come to town.

"It's important that we turn the city around and point it in a new direction," Eldridge said. "We're doing that."

Though not currently in public office, Smalley is not an unknown in Kenai public service.

He served on the Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission from 1978 to 1989, then on the Kenai City Council from 1989 to 1999, and resigned only to run for and be elected to the Alaska State Legislature in 1999, serving one term.

"I think one of the top issues deals with economic growth and development in our community," Smalley said.

"We will soon have two big box stores. They will bring construction jobs at first and retail, but right now, with Agrium (closing), we will have this great loss of jobs. These are people who work here, shop here, go to our schools. It behooves us to keep these families here and get them gainful employment," he said.

In Kenai, where council candidates all run at-large, the top two vote-getters will win the open seats.

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