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Plan begins next phase

Posted: Friday, November 07, 2003

After attending a flurry of public meetings from Moose Pass to Seldovia and just about everywhere in between consultants working on the Kenai Peninsula Borough's updated comprehensive plan wrapped up their whirlwind tour of the Kenai Peninsula this week.

The consultants, representing the Portland, Ore., firm Cogan Owens Cogan, have spent the past three weeks crisscrossing the borough in order to gather public opinions for the plan, which was last updated in 1992. An updated plan is set to be completed next fall and is intended to guide borough policy through the year 2015.

On Wednesday consultants Matt Hastie and Susan Roberts dropped in on the weekly Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon, where they heard a number of comments on what direction the public would like to see the borough move in during the next 10 years.

Hastie asked chamber members about what, specifically, they'd like to see emphasized in several different areas of the plan, including land use, environmental protection, population issues, the economy, transportation and public services. What he heard back included a wide range of ideas and comments on everything from water quality monitoring on the Kenai River to building a road to Point Possession.

Kenai Mayor John Williams raised the Point Possession road issue during a discussion on economic development. He said the best way to spur the borough's economy would be to streamline the transportation corridor between the peninsula and the rest of Southcentral.

"We need faster and better access to the bigger city," Williams said.

The mayor said that building a road to the northern tip of the peninsula would allow a proposed high-speed ferry to shuttle cars and people between the peninsula and Anchorage cutting down significantly on the time it takes to travel between the central peninsula and Anchorage.

"That would put us within 80 driving miles of Anchorage," Williams said.

He said plans already are under way to design and build such a ferry, and the borough needs to get on board with a road as soon as possible in order to grow the economy.

"If we could tie ourselves to Anchorage through that quick transportation corridor, you would see a tremendous amount of economic development in the whole Cook Inlet corridor," he said.

According to Hastie, the goal of Wednesday's meeting like some 43 other meetings held throughout the borough in the past three weeks was not to settle on any concrete plans for the future, but simply to hear from local citizens on things they'd like to see included in the plan.

"A lot of what comes out of these meetings will feed into discussion of future issues," he said.

Wednesday's meeting with the chamber was one of two on the consultants' itinerary. Following the Kenai meeting, Hastie and Roberts drove south for an evening meeting in Kasilof. Their final stop came Thursday in Seldovia, where they met with community and business leaders before heading back to Portland today.

Hastie said the meetings of the past three weeks are a first step in the process. He noted that a telephone survey, as well as another round of public comment, will take place between now and the release of a final plan, which is expected by late 2004.

"We're still in the information gathering stage," Hastie said.

A lot of input is needed because the updated plan will be used as the cornerstone of borough policy for the next decade. As such, a lot of work and time has to go into formulating a plan that takes into account a wide variety of perspectives and comments, Hastie said.

"It's not just a matter of filling in some numbers and slapping a new cover on it," he told the chamber.

Other comments recorded Wednesday in Kenai focused on the health and future of the area's most important watersheds, namely the Kenai River.

"The Kenai Peninsula is dependent on various watersheds," said Jim Fisher of Soldotna. "How will the plan help with the maintenance and enhancement of those riversheds?"

Fisher suggested that any comprehensive plan should include an emphasis on water quality monitoring throughout the borough, and in the Kenai River in particular.

Other suggestions for the updated plan given Wednesday included placing greater emphasis on working with Kenai Peninsula College, formulating a boroughwide animal control policy and looking at ways to partner with the area's Native communities.

Hastie said he'll take all the comments back to Portland, where Cogan Owens Cogan will begin to compile the data and work on a first draft of the new plan.

Once a draft is completed, Hastie said the firm will return to Alaska to get more comments before issuing a final plan.

"This is by no means the end of the public process," he said.

To borough's current comprehensive plan can be downloaded at www.kpbcompplan.com.



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