Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly members unanimously support funding for school improvements and emergency services
Several important items passed through the consent agenda at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly’s June 21 meeting.
Notably, assembly members passed an ordinance which appropriates nearly $400,000 to replace and improve the hot water system for South Peninsula Hospital. They also passed a resolution that would address hazards and provide safe transportation to the Lowell Point community, outside of Seward, which experienced a landslide on May 7 that blocked road access.
Many of the items on the assembly’s agenda focused on fire mitigation and emergency services, including an ordinance to support forest management efforts for areas affected by spruce bark beetles, and another approving nearly $23,000 toward volunteer fire assistance on the Kenai Peninsula. The agenda also included an ordinance appropriating $700,000 to update the peninsula’s emergency siren warning system, which alerts community members during tsunamis or earthquakes.
Assembly members also passed a resolution Tuesday authorizing the acquisition of property on behalf of Central Emergency Services for a replacement fire station.
Following the consent agenda, the first item during the public hearing section of the meeting was an ordinance to issue more than $65 million in bonds to pay for borough-wide educational improvements.
Assemblymember Tyson Cox outlined several initiatives that the funds would be used for. Those include a reconstruction of Soldotna Elementary School, entrance improvements at Homer High School and track and field improvements for Seward and Nikiski.
The ordinance had overwhelming support even from some of the Assembly’s more fiscally conservative members, like Assemblymember Bill Elam.
“I'm not a big fan of bonds and debt and taking on more payments, just in general,” Elam said. “But, I've been to a lot of these schools now. And we really do need to get some of this stuff addressed.”
The ordinance passed unanimously. Now the question of the bond issuance will be posed to peninsula voters on the Oct. 4 ballot.
Other items with unanimous approval included ordinances relating to compensation for borough planning commissioners and confirming four new appointments to the Planning Commission. The new appointees include Michael Horton (District 4-Soldotna), Virginia Morgan (District 6-East Peninsula), Christine Hutchison (District 7-Central Peninsula) and Dawson Slaughter (District 9-South Peninsula).
The only item without unanimous approval was an ordinance that would authorize a 25-year lease option for Utopian Power to develop a 40-acre solar farm. The proposed solar farm would be built on top of a former Sterling dump site.
Assemblymember Cox was critical of the independent power producer’s record and requested a postponement on the ordinance vote.
“I looked [them] up on the state website and Utopian Power LLC is a non-compliant LLC at this point,” said Cox. “We also have asked them what their projects are. And right now, the only project that they've completed is a one-megawatt solar farm. Not two, not two to six. They didn't even know what they were going to do. I just think there's a lot more questions than answers.”
Elam favored moving forward with the project. He said the land currently costs the borough money, and he wants to put that land to use.
“It's on a former dump site,” he said. “So, I don't know if we would be able to make a fair assessment based on the fact that you really can't use the land. They're doing everything on the surface, rather than being able to dig in because of the liners.”
The ordinance ultimately passed in a 7-2 vote, with assembly members Bjorkman and Cox voting “no.”
Through the new lease agreement, the borough will receive a 12% royalty from the project’s gross revenue, in addition to annual rent payments of $10,000.
Utopian Power says it would like to begin construction on the project within the next three years.
The next regular meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will be held on July 5 in Soldotna or via ZOOM.
You can also listen to the meeting on KBBI AM 890 or stream it live at KBBI.org