Road rules nearing adoption

Ordinance affecting new subdivisions not without controversey

Posted: Friday, November 30, 2007

Months of work on a measure that would require subdivision developers to build roads to standards necessary to place them under borough maintenance could become law Tuesday.

Borough Mayor John Williams, prime sponsor of Ordinance 2007-33 (substitute) said late last week that he expects the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to adopt the measure at its Dec. 4 meeting.

If they do, it will culminate almost a year of work by the administration, the assembly, the Road Service Area, the borough roads and planning officials, developers and landowners hashing out mutually acceptable provisions.

"The roads issue is contentious," Williams said. "I fully expect the assembly will pass the ordinance after taking care of some housekeeping."

Years ago when relatively few people lived on the peninsula, Williams said, road builders faced few if any restrictions. People simply punched through roads to where they wanted to go.

"It was a pioneering effort," Williams said. "But back then we didn't have 64,000 separate parcels of land. Subdivisions weren't proliferating. We didn't get 375 plat applications a year. And now we have some 1,800 miles of road to care for. We have to begin to look toward the future and what we will do to take care of the situation."

That situation includes a host of subdivisions within which lots were sold and homes erected around roads so poor they aren't on the borough maintenance list, and getting them there will cost subdivision residents and RSA taxpayers a lot of money.

The idea behind Ordinance 2007-33 is to prevent more such roads from being built. Primarily, it would require subdividers to build maintainable gravel roads before the final plats for their subdivisions are approved. It would also require connecting roads to state or borough maintained roads within 330 feet of the subdivision boundaries, and sets out guidelines for bonds and other measures for ensuring roads are constructed in a timely fashion.

Not everyone thinks the ordinance is a good idea.

Kasilof resident and developer Terry Cowart believes the current road codes are sufficient to ensure quality subdivision streets if the borough properly enforces them. In a recent memo to Williams, Cowart said the ordinance was not well thought out and only exacerbated existing problems.

"The only good thing coming out of this is demonstrating the lack of awareness of the existing ordinances already on the books," he said.

A lack of funding has limited plan reviews, inspections and enforcement, he said, adding that even maintenance suffers for lack of dollars.

"This ordinance would not be necessary if there was adherence to existing policies," he argued. "We do not need to give the roads department and RSA more teeth, we need force compliance through enforcement and upgrading the department."

Williams disagreed, saying the new ordinance was about doing things right. A similar effort several years ago earned a mayoral veto from former mayor Dale Bagley. That was a mistake, Williams said.

"In seven years, the addition of roads, trails, subdivisions is proliferating without these kinds of guidelines," he said. "That's a tremendous liability the borough will have to assume."

He also said it shouldn't be the taxpayers' lot to subsidize a developer's profit.

While the assembly is expected to act on Ordinance 2007-33 (substitute), the assembly said Nov. 20 that it would take no further public testimony on the measure.

Road rules nearing adoption An amendment proposed for inclusion in the ordinance that would have dictated stiffer standards for roads crossing salmon streams was rejected on a 4-4 vote at the Nov. 20 meeting.

Assemblywoman Milli Martin, of Diamond Ridge, a sponsor of the subdivision ordinance and a supporter of protecting salmon habitat, nevertheless voted against the amendment saying the subdivision ordinance was the wrong part of the code for that provision. Any stream protection it would have offered would have been limited in scope, she said.

Martin said she would prefer to see that as part of a larger and more comprehensive revamp of boroughwide road standards.

Robert Ruffner, director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, has been pushing hard for better stream-crossing rules ever since research demonstrated that scores of damaged culverts across the borough are blocking salmon migration. In many cases, he told the assembly Nov. 20, the problems are caused not by inadequate culverts, but by the poorly built roads above them.

Ruffner expressed disappointment with Martin's decision to vote against the amendment, saying she could have ensured that at least some stream protection in some locations would be written into the law.

"This was the first time I've seen Milli do something like this," he said. "I'm bewildered, perplexed."

Martin has promised to take up the stream-crossing issue in a new ordinance aimed at a wholesale rewrite of borough roads standards, and that she expects to see a draft measure before the assembly in January. She also said she hopes to have a work session on the issues in December.

Ruffner gave Martin credit for urging passage of the subdivision road requirements, noting that it "can be hard to have people coming at you from all directions."

He was also encouraged that the stream-crossing issue isn't being abandoned. Judging from public testimony to the assembly including some from members of the fishing industry who often don't see eye to eye, as well as comments by assembly members themselves, stiffer stream-crossing provisions have a lot of support.

Ruffner worries, however, that a good stream-crossing provision written into a new and broader roads ordinance might fail if other parts of that ordinance meet assembly opposition.

"What we need right now is a simple amendment that within a certain distance of a stream, roads should be built to certain standards," he said.

Cowart backed Martin's decision not to support including the stream amendment in Ordinance 2007-33, but for other reasons. He said it lacked credible research and public input, and called on supporters, such as Ruffner, to show where all the poor culverts are and whether they are on public or private property.

He also asked if they were in platted rights-of-way, how old the installations were, and whether they might have been installed to existing borough standards and failed anyway. Indeed, Cowart suggested a host of questions the assembly should seek answers for before adopting stiffer rules for stream crossing roads.

"There are many details to work out and the potential impact to residents mandates public hearings and adequate research," he said.

Martin said Thursday that she had not yet heard back about a scheduled day and time for a work session.

Hal Spence can be reached at affecting new subdivisions not without controversey

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