The Village of Nanwalek Resevoir remains nearly empty due to unprecedented drought conditions, Sept. 9, 2019, in Nanwalek, Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Kenai Peninsula Borough)

The Village of Nanwalek Resevoir remains nearly empty due to unprecedented drought conditions, Sept. 9, 2019, in Nanwalek, Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Kenai Peninsula Borough)

Assembly to consider climate change commission

The creation of the commission was included as a goal of the borough’s comprehensive plan.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly may introduce an ordinance establishing a commission to explore how the borough can respond to challenges imposed by a changing climate.

The creation of the commission was included as a goal of the borough’s comprehensive plan, which the assembly passed in 2019. The plan charged the borough with establishing a commission that would help “guide and support the borough’s programmatic responses” to a changing climate. The commission would have several focus areas to discuss, including energy and utilities, agriculture and mariculture and solid waste management.

The commission would advise borough administration and assembly members on how to develop “sustainability solutions” for the Kenai Peninsula, promoting “the economic security, safety, self-reliance, and wellbeing of its inhabitants, while maintaining the ability of future generations to do the same,” according to the ordinance.

Some issues the commission would explore would be how to extend the lifetime of landfills, improve cost and energy efficiency for buildings and transportation, increase use of clean energy, modernize electricity generation, storage and distribution and increase energy independence.

The ordinance to establish the “resilience and security advisory commission” will have a public hearing later in June, but some residents within the borough are already letting the assembly know where they stand.

The city councils of Seldovia, Homer and Soldotna have all passed resolutions supporting the establishment of a commission “to develop strategic responses to warming trends in our environment for the protection of public safety and welfare,” the ordinance said. The city of Homer already has a climate action plan in place and the city of Seward is working on one.

The Sterling Community Center board of trustees passed a resolution opposing introduction of the borough’s ordinance. The Sterling board’s resolution says the committee should “correctly be called the global warming committee, as that is what the information the website implies.” The Sterling resolution also says the committee should be “pursued as a private advocacy group and not by a government committee that recommends regulations and government financing.”

According to the borough’s ordinance, air temperatures on the Kenai Peninsula have risen by 3.4 degrees since 1969. July 2019 was the warmest month on record for Alaska. In 2019, several parts of the peninsula experienced unprecedented severe droughts. Annual available water on the western peninsula has declined 62% in the last half century, according to the ordinance, which cites the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The ordinance said significant warming trends in rivers and the ocean are starting to harm tourism and fisheries. Erosion is another concern the commission would hope to address.

The commission is also hoping to address the risk of wildfires. In the next 50 years on the Kenai Peninsula, the value of homes and businesses at risk of fire will increase 66%, the ordinance said. The 2019 Swan Lake Fire cost nearly $50 million to fight and caused heavy revenue losses for businesses across the peninsula.

The proposed commission would work with communities, the public and others to make recommendations to the mayor that promote the borough’s sustainability goals. Nine voting members would make up the committee, all of whom would be appointed by the mayor and approved by the assembly. Members of the commission would each come from the eastern peninsula, southwest peninsula, south central peninsula, central peninsula, northwest peninsula, and four at-large members. Meetings for the commission would occur once a month.

The ordinance said sustainable policies would have benefits for residents too, including “cost savings, job creation, bolstering self-reliance, increased economic stability through market diversification, greater protection of public natural resources, and better public health outcomes.”

There will be a presentation from Penelope Haas with the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society on the ordinance at Tuesday’s assembly meeting. The assembly meeting will be held virtually, and the public can attend via Zoom. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 19 and residents can find the meeting through the Zoom ID: 128 871 931.

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