Council takes up budget, hears reports on oil tanker protections, Turnagain Pass road safety

Oct 30, 2019

Credit City of Homer

In contrast to a heated hearing earlier in the day, Monday night’s Homer City Council meeting was relatively uneventful as new council members Joey Evensen and Storm Hansen-Cavasos took seats at the table for the first time and the council elected council member Rachel Lord as its new mayor pro tem.

The council took up the 2020/21 budget, which is expected to total $21.8 million in 2020 and $21.9 million in 2021.  Mayor Ken Castner asked city staff for more details on its reserve funds, saying it is important to know what comes in and what goes out of those funds on an annual basis. 

Council member Donna Aderhold asked that council members bring any proposed amendments to the budget to the city as early as possible so as to allow the public time to respond to the changes. The council is due to enact the budget on Dec. 9.

The council heard from the Homer representative to, and president of, the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, Robert Archibald, who reported that the council was closely watching the purchase from BP of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and the Valdez Marine Terminal by Harvest Alaska, a Hilcorp Energy Company affiliate. While Alyeska Service Company will continue to operate the pipeline and terminal, Archibald said the RCAC is watching closely to be sure there is no degradation of the existing safety measures and procedures.

In addition, the RCAC is closely monitoring an effort by the state to examine oil spill prevention and response requirements. While the state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jason Brune is on record as saying the state has no intent to do away with the protections put in place after the devastating Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, he said his department is looking for rules that are outdated and “unnecessarily burdensome.”

Archibald said the effort doesn’t sit well with him. “Prince William Sound RCAC feels that it is unreasonable for the Department of Environmental Conservation to claim now, after thirty profitable years of industry compliance with the laws and regulations, that they are too burdensome.  We feel this claim disregards the hard work of hundreds of Alaskans who have worked tirelessly after the Exxon Valdez oil spill to create oil spill prevention and response standards to ensure that the state of Alaska will never again suffer an environmental disaster.”

The public can comment on oil discharge prevention and contingency plan regulations through Jan. 15, 2020, and are encouraged to cite specific regulations in their comments, Archibald said. Information on how to submit comments can be found at  https://dec.alaska.gov/spar/regulation-projects/oil-discharge-prevention-contingency-plan-public-scoping/

Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly President and Homer representative Kelly Cooper reported on current borough priorities, including allocating funding for several efforts affected by budget cuts, such as the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Committee.

Also high on the borough’s list was an effort to restore road maintenance services to the SilverTip Maintenance Station near Hope, which provides road clearing and maintenance for a large section of the Turnagain Pass on the Seward Highway. Budget cuts have caused the Alaska Department of Transportation to close the station, which will result in reduced coverage. The section of road previously serviced by Silvertip will not be serviced between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. under the proposed plan, and during severe weather events, the road may be temporarily closed. Cooper noted that a lot of the peninsula’s freight, including food for grocery stores, is driven down from Anchorage in the early morning hours. In addition, should an accident occur, emergency responders may not be able to respond to the area due to the risks of traveling on an unserviced road.

The Council also appropriated an emergency authorization of $100,000 to fund emergency repairs at the Homer Fire Hall after a sprinkler system on the second floor of the building failed in the middle of the night, dumping hundreds of gallons of water. City Manager Katie Koester (KEST-er) said when the sprinkler failure occurred, it was fortunate that the on-duty staff person was “very tall” and was able to quickly stop the leak. While it only ran for three or four minutes, the water damage was widespread. She said the sprinkler itself was 30 years old, but the system had been inspected a few days prior to the failure. The carpets had also recently been cleaned.

The council also voted down a proposal by Grow Economy to apply for federal funding to explore turning the HERC building into a regional innovation plaza using $35,000 already approved by the council for a demolition study.

Mayor Castner gave a report of his meeting with Gov. Mike Dunleavy last week to discuss the issues of derelict vehicles at the airport as well as water drainage issues in the Baycrest subdivision. The mayor said he was quickly contacted by state officials to further discuss both issues.

Mayor Castner also offered his gratitude to all those who aided in the effort to search for Anesha “Duffy” Murnane, the Homer resident who has been missing since Oct. 17.

"I’m also very appreciative to the coverage our local media gave to it," said the mayor. " I’m especially appreciative to the people who went out of town, up the peninsula, and even to Anchorage putting up flyers.  So, thank you for being a community that cares.”