This November 21, 2015 shows the sign designating the unofficial border of Nikiski, Alaska. (Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

Borough establishes advisory board for Nikiski residents on LNG project

Nikiski residents now have a direct line to the Kenai Peninsula Borough government and the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation to voice their concerns about the Alaska LNG Project.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly approved the formation of the Alaska Liquid Natural Gasline Project Advisory Board at its meeting Tuesday, intended to give the community of Nikiski a forum to discuss issues related to the Alaska LNG Project. The planning for the project, a state-sponsored megaproject that involves an approximately 800-mile pipeline to bring natural gas from the North Slope to a liquefaction plant in Nikiski with the intent to export it to markets in Asia, has been stirring discussion in Nikiski for the last several years.

The planned plant would take up about 800 acres on the coast of Nikiski around Mile 19 of the Kenai Spur Highway, just south of the Miller Loop Road intersection. Project planners are designing a re-route of the Kenai Spur Highway around the plant, which would require people in the developed neighborhoods to the east of the plant site to sell their property and move. More than two years of waiting for the announcement of a final selected route and concern about property values has led to confusion and frustration — nearly 300 people came to a Feb. 12 meeting held about the road relocation.

Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce said the advisory group is meant to give citizens of Nikiski more representation in the process. In his memo to the assembly, he wrote that the formation of the group was submitted after the packet deadline because “the level of concern in the community is increasing.”

“The need for this advisory group is increasing and I believe it would be beneficial to both the AGDC and the community to communicate and work together as this project moves forward,” he wrote.

The assembly approved the formation of the group with the amendment that its members would report to the assembly and the mayor rather than go directly out to the public. Pierce appointed Nikiski residents Heidi Covey, Dan Gregory, Paul Huber, Tim Johnson, Richard McGahan, Lou Oliva and Jason Ross to the advisory board. The resolution calls for nine members of the public, three alternate public members and one ex-officio assembly member.

Nikiski is an unincorporated area north of Kenai, with about 5,600 residents between the Salamatof and Nikiski areas. Because it is unincorporated, the Kenai Peninsula Borough administration is the most immediate government body, and the area has one representative on the assembly. However, at past meetings about the LNG project, some residents of Nikiski have said they do not feel they have enough representation to deal with the oil companies and the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, the state-owned entity developing the LNG project.

It’s not just the LNG project, said Huber, who is also involved in Citizens for Nikiski Inc., a group in the process of submitting a petition to incorporate Nikiski as a home-rule city. As the area has grown and needed more services, many residents have not felt represented or listened to, and the advisory board is a good step to acknowledge that gap.

“As much as we’ve been able to see, we’re really pleased with the relationship we have with our current mayor,” he said. “We wish we could have had that relationship with the last mayor.”

They’re still figuring out the logistics of meetings, which will be open to the public, advertised ahead of time and subject to the open meetings act. Though there will be a cost for the advertisement, no budget appropriation was designated for the group, according to Pierce’s memo.

The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation maintained an office in Kenai and held regular public meetings while the seismic work and preparation to submit the initial project application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was going on, but after the application was in, the corporation closed the Kenai office.

Since then, with the FERC requesting more information and Alaska Gasline Development Corporation President Keith Meyer saying the project developers plan to have complete approval by the end of 2018, the corporation has begun holding more public meetings and recently applied to reopen a local office in Nikiski in the Nikiski Community Recreation Center.

The lease would cost $1,252.02 per month, received by the North Peninsula Recreation Service Area, and last for six months with a month-to-month extension after that. It would include a clause allowing the corporation to rent other space in the building for community meetings as necessary, said borough Lands Manager Marcus Mueller at the assembly’s Lands Committee meeting Tuesday.

The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation had not responded to a request for comment on its involvement with the Nikiski community advisory board by press time Thursday.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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