Assembly votes to update comprehensive plan

The Kenai Peninsula Borough government plans to start looking for proposals to update its comprehensive plan.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Comprehensive Plan, which outlines the broad goals, government functions, existing and future conditions and issues in the borough, was last updated in 2005. State law requires the borough government to “periodically undertake an overall review” of the plan and update it as necessary. When the plan was completed in 2005, it planned for the years 2005–2015.

Some parts of the plan haven’t changed much in the approximately 13 years since it was written in 2003-04, but others have changed significantly. For example, in its section on the economy, the plan details long-term sales contracts with local utility companies for natural gas from Marathon Oil Company and Unocal’s contract with Agrium. Marathon sold its assets and withdrew from Cook Inlet in 2012 and 2013, Unocal was sold to Chevron which has since withdrawn from the area and Agrium closed its facility in 2007.

The borough actually has a variety of plans. Just before the 2005 comprehensive plan was completed, the borough paid about $193,000 for a transportation plan, which pulled out the transportation section of the comprehensive plan and updated it on its own. Before that, the borough had trail plans in 1992 and 1998 and a comprehensive plan in 1992. In the time since, the borough also developed a multi-jurisdictional hazard mitigation plan in 2014, a coastal management program plan update in 2007, a complete study of the groundwater conditions in Nikiski in 2015 and a number of annual economic reports called Situations and Prospects up until 2008, when the funding was cut for an economic analyst position at the borough. The Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District has since picked up publishing the report.

The comprehensive plan looks over all the broad goals for the borough. At the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly’s Oct. 11 meeting, assembly members passed a resolution authorizing borough administrators to spend $275,000 to contract with a consultant to update the comprehensive plan.

Borough Mayor Mike Navarre had originally asked the assembly to authorize a $325,000 expenditure. That number was based on the cost of the last update, he said, and it’s possible the borough wouldn’t spend all of it.

“All our various plans in the borough are incorporated into the comprehensive plan,” Navarre said at the assembly’s Oct. 11 meeting. “It’s used for a lot of decisions that we make but, as importantly, the decisions that communities make and other agencies, federal and state agencies, utilize it.”

Assembly member Dale Bagley proposed an amendment to reduce the amount to $275,000 because he said he thought the cost was too high, especially given the impending fiscal crunch on the borough due to the state’s budget deficit. However, he also said he saw the value in having a plan and that if the plan takes a year and a half to develop, the borough will not have updated the plan for 13 ½ years by the time it is completed.

“In this fiscal climate, I’m just not happy with the $325,000, and would like the administration to find a way to make that ($275,000) work,” Bagley said.

Navarre told the assembly the administration could work around the reduction, but he said the assembly should approve some appropriation for updating the plan. He said the borough doesn’t have to update the plan every decade, but “things change a lot in 10 years.”

Assembly member Blaine Gilman said he was uncomfortable with spending that much for the comprehensive plan update because of the upcoming fiscal cuts around the state.

“We’re at a time where funds for the borough are getting tighter and what’s better, to push off the comprehensive plan by a couple of years or being put in a situation next year or the year after where we’re required to lay off some employees to make our budget work?” Gilman said.

Assembly member Kelly Cooper said she saw the value in updating the plan, calling it critical as a roadmap for economic development in the borough.

“We can’t know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been,” Cooper said. “If we don’t update that plan, we have no way of knowing what the expectations are for the future or what we did well and what we didn’t do well and things we can work on, and what we’ll really be amazed at is how quickly everything is changing.”

The assembly passed the appropriation 6-3, with Gilman and assembly members Stan Welles and Wayne Ogle voting against it. The borough will put out a request for proposal to consultants who can update the plan. A consultant will collect data on a variety of current borough conditions, review the 2005 plans and coordinate public engagement throughout, according to a Sept. 27 memo from the borough’s planning department. The whole process is expected to take 18–24 months, according to an Aug. 11 memo from the borough’s planning department.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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