Soldotnans are about to turn the page on yet another year, and still, no cemetery.
Residents came closer than ever to getting a place to bury their dead this year, but an attempt to have the Kenai Peninsula Borough donate a chunk of real estate for a city cemetery fell to Earth with a thud.
At the recommendation of a city-appointed Cemetery Task Force, Soldotna sought to swap a 17-acre parcel at Arc Lake for a 10-acre borough tract along West Redoubt Avenue.
That idea hit a snag when it was learned the Arc Lake land had been given to the city by a private party with a stipulation that it always be used for citizens’ recreation.
The task force favored the central location of the Redoubt tract and its ease of access, and convinced the Soldotna City Council it should be pursued even without a trade.
The city approached the borough assembly with the suggestion that if the 10 acres were donated to the city outright, the city would operate and maintain a municipal cemetery that could serve the entire central peninsula.
While the borough assembly debated a direct conveyance, however, the city withdrew its petition without saying why.
The idea was dead.
Task force members Barbara Jewell and Jim Fassler said, at the time, they were disappointed and hoped that at some point in the future, the city would reconvene the task force in hopes of resurrecting the quest for a final resting place.
“I’m really disappointed in the borough that it wouldn’t stand up and say, ‘This is our contribution to our cemetery,’” Fassler said Dec. 20.
Regarding Soldotna city leaders, Fassler said, “My impatience level is up, but they have kept us informed.
“It’s really frustrating that it’s coming so slowly.”
Last week, City Manager Tom Boedeker said he is out exploring other options for a city cemetery.
“I’m going back in in January to present the council with a plan of action,” he said.
“At this point, it looks like we’ll be acquiring property ... purchasing land. Our task force didn’t look at private property.”
Boedeker said a parcel in the five- to 10-acre range would be suitable as a cemetery that would meet the needs of a growing community into the future.
“We’re looking at a site on the west end of West Redoubt (Avenue), but it may be (too) wet,” he said.
Boedeker said state money is still available to help build a veterans memorial in the city or a veterans section in a cemetery if one is built.
Last summer, the city was told $40,000 had been set aside through the efforts of Rep. Mike Chenault and Sen. Tom Wagoner.
Boedeker also said some legislators were eying federal funding for a veterans cemetery, but he was “not holding out for that” because federal regulations prohibit national cemeteries from being operated by municipalities; only states may manage federally funded cemeteries.
Fassler said the idea of a municipal cemetery in Soldotna “is 50 years overdue.”
“Let’s think of the older people that live in the community,” he said. “If I was 85 years old and my spouse died, I wouldn’t want to drive all the way to Kasilof or Kenai to visit her grave.”
He also said he believes a city cemetery keeps a record of a city’s history.
“We say thanks to the people for living here, for supporting our community and for paying taxes,” Fassler said. “Then at death, we’re done with you.”
He said his own parents and grandparents are buried in Iowa, but he does not feel a need to be buried there.
“There will be a military plaque attached to my family’s grave stone,” said Fassler, a U.S. Air Force veteran who served on active duty from 1965 to 1969.
“I don’t feel a need to go back.”
Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek @peninsulaclarion.com.
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