If no one hears a tree when it falls in the forest, does it still make a sound? Applied to Tuesday's meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly, the answer is yes.
When Tim Navarre, assembly president, asked for public comment on a number of ordinances scheduled for public hearing on Tuesday, it drew a chuckle from the other eight assembly members. Not because public comments are laughable, but because there was no one from the public there to testify.
Fueled by a wide range of topics and hundreds of pages of back-up material, committee meetings that began at 10 a.m. and stretched until 5:30 p.m. drew some attention from borough residents. But after the regular assembly convened at 7 p.m., the few people that were there gradually disappeared.
A big attention magnet was the pending renewal of a five-year contract with Central Peninsula General Hospital Inc. The contract expires on Dec. 31, 2002. However, it contains a Dec. 31, 2001, "trigger date" for either party to address revisions to the agreement. (See related story, this page.)
Twice during Tuesday's work session with the assembly and borough administration on the contract, Navarre requested an executive session to specifically address areas of the negotiations. However, only Grace Merkes, of Sterling, and Gary Superman, of Nikiski, supported Navarre's first request. The second attempt gained support from Paul Fischer, of Kasilof, but failed to find approval with others, who maintained negotiations should be addressed first by the administration and the hospital before the assembly steps in.
"I'm glad to see we're allowing the administration a chance to do the initial discussion," said Bill Popp, of Kenai. "Perhaps they can solve contract issues through that process. If not, they'll bring it back to the assembly and we'll work on it. This is a disagreement between administration and hospital over technical issues, and I think ultimately they'll get them resolved."
Navarre scheduled a follow-up work session with the assembly, borough administration and the Central Kenai Peninsula Borough Hospital Service Area Board for Jan. 22 at 4 p.m.
"Would the borough assembly be disappointed if we reached an agreement with CPGH by then?" Jeff Sinz, the borough's finance director, asked Navarre. "It's not a sure thing, but we're optimistic in our approach, and it's certainly possible."
Navarre said he was sure none of the assembly's nine members would be upset.
Pork was another big topic on Tuesday. Pigs, that is; not political payback.
Merkes and Navarre requested the assembly's support of the Alaska Pork Project Inc.'s request to the state of Alaska to fund a $400,000 feasibility study and business plan to focus on "a large-scale pork industry in the state of Alaska, including the Kenai Peninsula Borough."
"If successful, this project would provide a significant new industry to Alaska and potentially the Kenai Peninsula Borough, diversifying the economy," Merkes and Navarre wrote in a memo accompanying the resolution. "The proposed project would utilize modern technology to provide a clean environment for raising and marketing the pork."
Rod Berg, of Soldotna, urged the assembly to take the project seriously. Tim Anderson, also of Soldotna, characterized pork as a renewable resource that needs to be in this borough. Dick Meteer, the project president, assured the assembly that current technology makes it possible to have "an environmentally safe pig meat industry."
However, the assembly questioned the project being in the best interests of the borough. Cost and environmental impacts posed red flags.
A report by Hans Geier, regional economist and agricultural production cost specialist with the School of Agriculture and Land Resources Management and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, had reached the hands of assembly members. In it, Geier reported the absence of "numbers to support any construction or purchase of facilities in Alaska, labor costs and other needed cost information that should be present in any feasibility study."
Geier also raised the issue of pollution associated with U.S. hog factories.
"In fact, the largest hog producer in Alaska (in Delta Junction) recently quit raising hogs because of manure disposal problems, and dairy farmers are experiencing equivalent difficulties," Geier wrote.
The assembly did give its unanimous approval to remove specific reference to the Kenai Peninsula, as requested by Superman.
"I am not thrilled with the idea of this coming here, but there may be other communities in the state that may embrace this," said Bill Popp, of Kenai.
The resolution passed on a 7-to-2 vote, with Chris Moss and Milli Martin, both from the Homer area, in opposition.
"I don't want this anywhere in Alaska," Martin said.
In other assembly news:
n The assembly's legislative committee, chaired by Ron Long, of Seward, rolled up its sleeves to address the borough's priorities. Long said he anticipates those will be finalized by the assembly's Jan. 8 meeting. In late January, the assembly will travel to Juneau and personally deliver the priority list to the Legislature.
n A $75,000 request to study the feasibility of an industrial park in Nikiski was introduced by Superman, Popp and Navarre on Tuesday. Superman said the ordinance has a generic focus, rather than identifying any specific businesses interested in relocating in the Nikiski area. A public hearing on this ordinance is scheduled at the assembly's Jan. 8 meeting.
n An ordinance offering a four-year property tax exemption for enhancements to the exterior or aesthetic quality of land and structures was introduced by Superman and Long. The first public hearing on this ordinance is scheduled for Jan. 8.
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