Bare trees, cooler temperatures and a memo from the Parks and Recreation Department got the Soldotna City Council thinking snow Wednesday night.
Whether or not to open the city’s ski and snowboarding hill was the question.
City Manager Tom Boedeker told the council members that it cost the city $16,000 last year for liability insurance on the attraction and, due to a lack of snow and staffing limitations that resulted from Arctic Winter Games preparations, the hill never opened.
Low snow totals in Soldotna last winter would have permitted operation of the ski hill for only three weeks, according to a memo from Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael.
In addition to marginal snowfalls in recent years, Carmichael’s memo also cited the lack of a rope tow as a deficiency of the hill.
“This is a very expensive hill to open,” said Boedeker. “Before we go out and commit to spending maybe $17,000 (on insurance this year), we wanted to have some discussion with the council.”
Boedeker offered the council a number of options to consider: continue operating the hill as in the past and hope for enough snow to keep it open longer; not open the hill and save the insurance money and staffing costs; or continue operating the hill with an eye toward developing it with the assistance of the Sportsmen’s Club, including the installation of a rope tow, snow making equipment and the purchase of two additional lots to accommodate the tow.
Because of imminent increased costs for the Public Employee Retirement System, Boedeker said, “Money’s gonna be tight.”
Mayor Dave Carey asked Boedeker if he believed people would continue to use the hill even if the city did not open it and did not have insurance.
Boedeker said they probably would, and said the city would need to post no trespassing signs and prosecute those who did trespass.
To relieve itself of liability, the city would need to “tell the whole world there’s no more ski hill,” Boedeker said. “You can’t just say it’s not open.”
Council member Jane Stein said people have “a wonderful facility at Skyview. Maybe now’s the time to say, ‘No ski hill.’”
Speaking telephonically from Canada, Council member Lisa Parker asked what the Sportsmen’s Club’s level of interest is.
Carmichael said conversations with the club included everything from snowmaking to the rope tow.
“I’m in favor of paying the insurance and keeping it open,” said Council member Jim Stogsdill.
Boedeker said it is in the city’s budget for this fiscal year.
“If you didn’t want me to open it, I wouldn’t,” he said. “I will go ahead and pay the insurance and open it this year.”
In other council business, Carey swore in the winners of the recent municipal election Stogsdill, who was reelected to his own seat, and Betty Obendorf, who was elected to the seat being vacated by Council member Sharon Moock.
Carey also administered the oath of office to the council’s new student ex-officio member, Tashina Wortham-Turnbull. Carey told her that in 1969, he was appointed ex-officio student member of the council.
During the city department head reports, Police Chief John Lucking Jr. said the Brentwood Street issues brought to the council’s attention two weeks ago have been addressed.
A Brentwood resident complained that motorists were using the street as a speedway, especially during starting and ending times of the school day.
Lucking said police met with sophomore, junior and senior students and set up the department’s traffic enforcement sign along the street between Marydale and Corral avenues.
He also told council members police would be sending off the Soldotna High School football team with lights and sirens at 7:50 a.m. today as the Northern Lights Conference champions head off to the small-schools state championship in Anchorage.
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