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Kenai discusses city wish list with legislators

Posted: Thursday, December 23, 2010

Area legislators met with the Kenai City Council members for a work session about projects and issues the state lawmakers will tackle in 2011 in Juneau.

At the Tuesday work session with Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai; and Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna; city manager Rick Koch explained that a currently unfunded project on the city's list would enable the city create three areas for fish processing: one each at the north and south beaches, and another at the city boat launch, areas that are heavily used during the annual personal-use dipnet fishery.

"This primarily would deal with fish cleaning and waste transfer facilities or stations," Koch said.

Wagoner said that if the processing stations were needed, he thought the state should pay for them.

That project could also help the city foster its relationship with the Kenaitze Indian Tribe.

"There are parts of that fish waste they would be interested in having for their traditional foods," Koch said.

Wagoner said he is working on helping the city with funding for the personal-use fishery. When the session starts in January, he will have a bill pre-filed that would replace the current sport fishing license requirement with a $15 dipnetting permit.

"That money, hopefully, will be used for more enforcement," he said, adding that he also wanted to improve data collection.

Wagoner said he plans to hold public hearings on the bill. The bill will be pre-filed next week, he said later.

Council members were interested in the bill, and expressed their concerns with the fishery as it currently exists.

"The universal phrase I hear is it's out of control," said council member Brian Gabriel.

Dipnetting isn't the only issue the city hopes the legislators can help with. Koch asked for assistance getting the Legislature to redefine the Kenai River Special Management Area boundary, which currently extends further downriver than the city believes the state originally intended.

Wagoner said he would file a bill to help the city out.

"Now we're talking about state's rights vs. the city's rights," he said.

Koch said Kenai's number one priority for the coming year is a bluff erosion project. That project didn't make it into the governor's budget, but Koch said the city has been working on funding sources. The whole project would cost about $29 million, he told the legislators. The city is also working with Alaska's congressional delegation to get federal funding, but that money would require some funding from a different source because of the 65/35 split for coastal erosion projects.

The city's second priority made it into the governor's budget, said Mayor Pat Porter. That project will replace a water transmission main as part of a number of improvements to the city's water system. This proposed line would improve flow and pressure. Koch said the city is working on another line and treatment plant, which has funding.

Further down the prioritized list of projects was funding for energy conservation improvements. Koch said the city has applied for a state loan program that would enable the city to have an energy audit done, and then loan the city money to make improvements that would be result in cost-savings. The state guarantees the cost savings, he said, so there is no risk for Kenai, and the loan isn't secured. Koch didn't know when the state will make a decision on the city's application, but said the city applied just days after hearing about the program.

"We're the first municipality that has submitted an application," he said.

Koch said the city applied for three facilities: city hall, the airport and the recreation center. The program could help with replacing the roof at the airport, which is a heat sink.

"The airport could be absolutely a significant number," Koch he said.

Other projects near the top of the city's priority list include street improvements, an equipment maintenance shop and vehicle storage for the senior center. Koch explained that street improvements are a perpetual request. After a question from Porter, Wagoner said that equipment maintenance shops don't get funded very often outside of DOT requests. Koch said there might be a possibility of federal funding because of a Federal Aviation Administration formula that partially funds projects that benefit FAA facilities. Vehicle storage would help improve services to senior citizens, and save on wear to the vehicles while they warmed up, Koch said.

"In this weather, that 16-passenger bus is going to sit there a long, long time," he said.

The council also discussed the state's economic climate with the legislators. Wagoner said that new oil and gas developments are good signs for the area.

He also mentioned that he'd be working to reinvigorate the oil industry and reduce their taxes.

Overall, Wagoner said that Gov. Sean Parnell produced a budget that limited growth to 2 percent, and he hoped that the budget would stay like that.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@peninsulaclarion.com.



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