The good, bad and the future


Posted: Friday, December 30, 2005

As the saying goes, no news is good news.

While that phrase certainly isn’t a completely accurate description of 2005 on the central Kenai Peninsula, it comes close as far as bad news is concerned.

That’s not to say nothing noteworthy took place this past year. Life went on and invariably generated the milestones and minutia that define it, both hopeful and disappointing, exhilarating and disheartening, significant and merely routine.

But at least the peninsula was spared a catastrophe in 2005. Wildfires ravaged sections of the peninsula, the worst being the Fox Creek blaze near Tustumena Lake, but no one was hurt and no homes were lost. No major oil spills polluted our land or water. Heck, the Kenai River even spared us its ritual of serious spring flooding.

There were deaths — of natural causes, from accidents and even a murder — but no tragedies that claimed multiple lives and left us questioning humanity’s moral fiber.

There were happy moments, too. Kasilof musher Lance Mackey won the Yukon Quest. Nikiski’s J.D. Megchelsen’s garden gone wild produced a gigantic pumpkin that smashed the state record. And thanks to the generosity of the community and the willingness of state officials to step in, a little Kenai boy, Landon Rogers, received the medical care he desperately needed to lead a more comfortable life.

The area’s economy didn’t enjoy a banner year, but it ended up a lot stronger than originally expected.

As 2005 dawned, the peninsula was reeling from the announcement that the Agrium facility would shut down in October. Thankfully that didn’t end up being the case. One plant has been closed and people have been laid off, but an agreement with the Cook Inlet Gas Gathering System pipeline owners means the rest of the facility is expected to keep operating at least until November 2006. In fact, the possibility of Agrium using coal gasification technology may mean the creation of as many as 2,000 jobs in the area.

Add to that Tesoro’s announcement that it will begin refining low-sulfur diesel fuel at its North Kenai refinery and Kenai’s news that Wal-Mart is coming to town and the economy is looking rosier than it has in a while.

More about these developments and others from 2005 can be found in Sunday’s Clarion.

When standing at the threshold of a new year, it is customary to reflect on the past and make resolutions about the future. There’s much to look forward to in 2006. The Arctic Winter Games is coming up in March. Preparations have hit some snags, so a resolve definitely is in order for the peninsula to make the Games the wonderful, once-in-a-generation extravaganza they should be.

Industry has some interesting developments on the horizon, as well. Agrium’s coal gasification development tops the list, but others are on there — including the continued development of the Kenai Wild salmon brand and the planning and permitting of Pebble Mine across Cook Inlet. The resolve here is that the peninsula support the continued reasonable and environmentally safe development of the oil and gas industry while also looking for ways to diversify the economy to sit us in better stead for the inevitable day when oil and gas reserves run out.

Politics had a turbulent year in 2005 that set up interesting challenges in 2006. A runoff was needed to elect borough Mayor John Williams. In the year to come Williams and the borough assembly face the tough task of funding education and providing other needed services with declining revenues. Voter initiatives that passed in the October election tied our elected officials’ hands in dealing with this challenge by nixing a bed tax and requiring votes before enacting a sales tax increase and spending more than $1 on a capital project.

Let’s hope peninsula residents are willing to hear the tough truths that may come up this year and accept the fact that if you want government services, you have to pay for them. And that price tag could very well go up this year.

At the Clarion we have a resolve, too — that we continue serving our community by providing information that readers want and need to know.

Happy 2006.

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