Graphic by Ashlyn O’Hara

Graphic by Ashlyn O’Hara

Assembly takes in boundaries of Nikiski advisory group

The western boundary of the Nikiski Advisory Planning Commission now follows the eastern shore of Cook Inlet

A monthslong back and forth between Nikiski residents, the Native Village of Tyonek and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly over the boundaries of a local land group came to a close Tuesday night, when assembly members voted during their regular meeting to make the coverage area of that group smaller.

Assembly members last September approved the creation of the Nikiski Advisory Planning Commission, which gives residents an opportunity to participate in and offer advice about land decisions that affect their community.

As originally approved by assembly members, the boundaries of the commission included Nikiski, as well as communities on the west side of Cook Inlet, such as Tyonek and Beluga. The assembly has since been mulling whether or not to reduce the group’s boundaries to exclude west side communities.

Roughly two-and-a-half months after establishing the group, assembly members Brent Johnson, Cindy Ecklund and Mike Tupper introduced an ordinance that would make the boundaries of the group smaller. In doing so, they cited public feedback from people in west side communities.

Residents in those communities have asked the assembly to constrain the commission to only include communities on the east side of Cook Inlet, which they say are separate from their communities on the west side. West side residents further say they were left out of the commission petition process and have long handled their own land issues.

In advocating for west side communities to be included in the group, Niksiki petitioners say the bigger boundaries more closely align with other Nikiski area groups, such as the Nikiski Fire Service Area, the Nikiski Senior Service Area and the North Peninsula Recreation Service Area. Nikiski petitioners also say many Nikiski residents work and recreate on the east side of Cook Inlet.

The legislation introduced in December initially failed after a tie vote in February. The ordinance was then reconsidered and has been postponed three times leading up to Tuesday’s vote. Including when the assembly established the Nikiski Advisory Planning Commission last fall, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission has reviewed the group boundaries three times, each time recommending that the boundaries be reduced to only include communities on the east side of Cook Inlet.

As initially approved, the Nikiski Advisory Planning Commission covered 3.5 million acres on both sides of the inlet — more than four times the size of every other borough planning commission area combined. As reduced, the group covers just over 307,000 acres, still making it the largest of any such group in the borough.

Assembly members during their Tuesday night meeting failed to adopt an amendment to the ordinance proposed by Peter Ribbens, who represents Nikiski, that would have retained the group’s larger footprint, but carved out Alaska Native-owned land parcels. Because the vote on that amendment was a tie vote, the amendment failed.

Following Tuesday’s vote, the western boundary of the Nikiski Advisory Planning Commission now follows the eastern shore of Cook Inlet. The area includes Nikiski, Gray Cliff and Moose Point.

Ribbens, who ultimately voted against making the boundaries smaller, told assembly members during a meeting of the Policies and Procedures Committee earlier that day that borough planning commissioners have made it clear that they do not want to consider the issue again.

Assembly member Lane Chesley, who represents Homer, shared a similar sentiment. He said he struggled with the vote because it is difficult to find people to volunteer to serve on advisory planning commissions. However, he said that as a former member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission, it was frustrating when their recommendations were ignored by a legislative body.

“There’s a number of times here that we don’t support the work of our planning commission and I’m sure that they feel undermined as well,” Chesley said. “To do that again after three votes of that body I think would be a huge hit to them and they would be the true losers in this process.”

The assembly voted 6-2 in favor of the ordinance, with assembly members Bill Elam and Ribbens voting in opposition.

Tuesday’s assembly meeting can be streamed on the borough’s website at kpb.legistar.com.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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