Nikiski residents list their wants

Meeting planned tonight to discuss top project choices

Posted: Monday, November 05, 2001

The North Peninsula Recreation Service Area asked and Nikiski residents answered -- with a vengeance.

The service area conducted a survey to collect information for future capital projects at Nikiski polling locations on election day, Oct. 2, and received a strong reply.

The survey contained two questions. One asked respondents what they felt the Nikiski community or North Peninsula Recreational Service Area needed to have as its next capital project and if it should have another capital project at all. The other asked respondents to rate suggestions for what that project should be.

Surveyors collected 450 completed surveys. The majority of responses to the first question asked for bicycle trails. The project suggestions receiving the highest ratings in the second question were a community center and refrigerated ice for the skating rink.

"I'm pretty excited that people want things out there," said Gary Superman, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member for Nikiski. "In the past, they just wanted to be left alone so we'll see where it goes."

The high results for the community center and refrigerated ice in the survey did not surprise Karen Kester, recreational director for the service area. She was aware of support in the community for both ideas, she said.

"The question is what does Nikiski need worse, refrigerated ice or a community center, and what is in a community center?" Kester said. "That would be the next question."

The proposal for a community center is one that will take research and discussion to advance. First there needs to be agreement on what role a center should play in the community and on what services and facilities the center should provide.

The North Peninsula Com-munity Council is holding a meeting today at 6 p.m. at the Nikiski Senior Center to discuss these topics.

"We're going to try to get some kind of concession on the concept of what the community center is and try to identify the funding for it and take it to the next level," Superman said.

"I'm trying to do what I can to push it along. It's a needed part of the community out there. I hope we can move ahead."

Going ahead with a refrigerated ice project would take less research and probably less money. The project would involve taking down the boards, tearing up the asphalt and putting in a refrigeration system in the existing ice rink. Kester estimates the project would cost more than $1 million.

"The issue would be if we put in refrigerated ice, can the kids out here afford the fees it would cost them to skate on it?" Kester said. "And if it costs $1 million plus, will voters support that kind of bond issue?"

Building a community center, with at least a bare-bones building, bathrooms, heating and air handling systems and a parking lot, would cost at least $3 million, Kester said. There is a possibility of finding federal funding to help cover the costs, but she said it's too early in the process to have identified any yet.

One way of funding either refrigerated ice or a community center would be to take out a bond. The current bond for $3 million that paid for the swimming pool will be paid off in 2004, Kester said.

Taking out another bond before that one is retired would mean an increase in taxes. More than 300 of the people surveyed indicated they would be willing to support an increase in taxes to develop a new facility. Only 147 people supported a tax increase of $100 a year for the maintenance and operation of a new facility. But more than 300 respondents, about two-thirds, indicated they would support a $10 increase in taxes.

If a new bond is acquired after the current one is retired and is for the same amount of money as the original bond, the tax rate may not change at all, assuming interest rates are similar for the new bond as the old one.

So if a new bond for $3 million or less, which would cover the cost of refrigerated ice but probably not a community center, is acquired after 2004, taxes may not change at all.

These issues are a long way from being decided, but at least with the survey results the service area has a more concrete idea of what projects residents want them to pursue.

Since the community's desire for refrigerated ice and a community center was expected, the service area is prepared to address those wishes. However, the call for bike trails was not, and it is not something the service area can create on its own.

"From my perspective, the trails weren't an option for us, so in terms of what the recreation service area could do, it wasn't going to be bike trails," Kester said.

According to House District 9 Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, the community has wanted bike trails for years. The service area survey gave people a chance to voice that desire.

"There are a lot of young mothers who would like to be able to get out and take their kids bike riding," said Nikiski resident Aimee Harrison. "Nikiski is kind of spread out, so if kids had a bike trail they could hop on their bikes and get from place to place pretty easily, rather than having parents take them everywhere."

Bike trails also bring up safety issues.

"I have four kids and they like to ride their bikes, and I don't like them to ride on the highway, especially with the narrow roads where there isn't much shoulder," Chenault said. "So it does become a big safety issue and a quality-of-life issue."

Building bike trails is something the service area can urge legislators to do, but not something it can accomplish alone because it doesn't own the right-of-way areas along the roads, Kester said.

"All the right of ways belong pretty much to the state or the borough," she said. "So the (service area board) decided what they would do is encourage the borough assembly members to get them put in."

Chenault is looking at a couple different options to get bike paths put in from Kenai to Nikiski and is trying to find some grants and other federal money to help pay for the project.

Chenault said he would like bike paths added from Mile 10.6 through 22 of the Kenai Spur Highway. The entire road was repaved last year, but with only an overlay of pavement -- the roadbed was not rebuilt and the road was not widened to accommodate bike trails.

As Chenault understood it, he said, since the job was just a repave and not a complete rebuild it didn't qualify for the federal money that would have funded bike trails.

The road section between Mile 22 and 29 -- from Tesoro to Halbouty Road -- received emergency repaving work this summer. Since it was an emergency repair job, the project again didn't receive the funding and work necessary to add bike trails.

However, the road section between Mile 22 and 29 is scheduled in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program for an upgrade in four years.

"If things go along and proceed in fashion, they should, in four years, come back and widen the road and put in bike paths on that section," Chenault said.

The community is supporting and pursuing improvements -- like bike trails and a community center -- in a more proactive nature than it used to, which is a good thing, Superman said.

"I've seen a lot more support than there has been in the past for certain needs out there," he said. "I think people are becoming aware that we're getting left out of the necessities out north. I think people want to see some things that are really needed out there and have been for a while."

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