Be prepared: '07 should get us ready for '08

Posted: Sunday, December 30, 2007

Perhaps we should borrow the Boy Scouts' motto when we talk about 2007. From a wildfire in the Caribou Hills to a borough election with contradictory results, there was much over the past year for which we on the Kenai Peninsula needed to be prepared.

We started 2007 off with flooding on the Kenai River caused when the Skilak Glacier-dammed lake released. The rise in water levels led to ice jamming from Sterling to Soldotna. Massive chunks of ice scoured the river's banks, leaving mangled fish walks, boat docks and river-access stairways in their wake.

In February and March, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, citing declining enrollment and more alternatives for a finite number of students, moved ahead with plans to consolidate Mountain View and Sears elementary schools in Kenai.

In June, a wildfire blazed through the Caribou Hills when sparks from a grinder ignited dry grass. The fire scorched 55,000 acres and destroyed more than 50 cabins. Before all was said and done, more than 500 wildland firefighters worked to contain the conflagration, all at a cost of $3.9 million.

This past election season left voters and elected officials baffled. A pair of ballot propositions enacting term limits on members of the borough assembly and school board were passed, but voters also re-elected every incumbent on the ballot. Action taken to seat re-elected incumbents rendered one lawsuit moot, but another court challenge remains pending.

While each of these events caught some people off guard, they are all things which we should have seen coming. This was not the first time ice jamming has wreaked havoc along the banks of the Kenai River. School district enrollment has been in a steady decline, funding has not kept pace with increases in costs and the school board and district administration have had consolidation on the agenda for several years. With acres of beetle-killed spruce, a wildfire in the Caribou Hills has for several years been a matter of when, not if. And we should have been aware that enacting a retroactive term limits measure would be in direct conflict with voting for candidates who, before the election, were eligible to serve, but who wouldn't be afterward should that measure pass.

None of these events were necessarily preventable. Forces of nature carved out the Kenai River long before we were here. Population demographics are dependent on a wide range of factors. Conditions on the peninsula were ripe for wildfires this summer; in fact, Forestry personnel responded to several smaller flare-ups on the southern peninsula before the fire broke out in the hills. And pulling a measure off the ballot would mean infringing on the constitutional rights of the people.

Stuff happens. Things change. We need to be ready to adapt to those changes. We can cross bridges when we get to them, but what do we do if the bridge is out? A little preparedness goes a long way toward mitigating negative impacts of any event.

In the coming year, it is likely we will see similar events, whether it's the work of Mother Nature or our own doing. Let's make a resolution to be proactive in dealing with these situations. There are little things we can do make sure there is a set of jumper cables in the car and a working flashlight in the home and there are big things, like clearing a defensible space around our homes. We can participate in local government and help shape policy, rather than reacting after decisions have been made. We also can make sure we are well-informed come election time, so that our votes are not open to interpretation.

While the end of the year is a good time for reflection, it's also a good time to look ahead. Let's take some time to prepare for the challenges we will face in the new year so we're not surprised by the things we should have seen coming.

Happy New Year. Being prepared will make it even happier.

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