Economic opportunity, freedom, natural resources, and strong community connections are among the things Kenai Peninsula residents value most about the area, according to the first draft of the borough’s new comprehensive plan.
The borough released the first draft of its updated Kenai Peninsula Borough Comprehensive Plan on Dec. 15, summarizing nearly a year of polling public opinion and researching the conditions in the borough. Along with identifying key values for the residents, the plan identifies a number of objectives to grow the peninsula’s industries, guide land use policies, expand infrastructure for quality of life and improve transportation, among other goals.
“Based on the many hundreds of conversations that went into the creation of this draft plan, there is a strong sense that borough residents are ready to move energetically and collaboratively into the next chapter of borough history,” the plan states. “There is a shared awareness of new economic realities, such as decreased state funding, and motivation to use the shift in resources and source of revenue to create new, more economically resilient Kenai Peninsula.”
Comprehensive plans help inform planning, funding and development efforts over their planned life. The borough last updated its comprehensive plan in 2005, intending it to end in 2015. In October 2016, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly appropriated $275,000 to pay a consultant to update the plan, intended to cover the next two decades.
Cities and boroughs in Alaska are required to have comprehensive plans. The consultants from Agnew Beck, the firm the borough hired to complete the comprehensive plan, included some of the elements of the 2005 plan in the 2018 update as well as new information. Several major changes highlight the amount of time that has passed — the 2005 plan includes oil companies that have long since withdrawn from Cook Inlet and does not mention any of the concerns about king salmon population sustainability in the sportfishing industry.
The plan identifies various industries to focus on as part of growing the peninsula’s economy, such as agriculture and mariculture. It includes potential obstacles, such as climate change and heavy regulation, and identifies goals like partnering with the school district to teach students about local farming and working with the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District on developing the mariculture industry.
Commercial fishing, tourism, mining and sportfishing all have their own sets of goals in the plan as well. One of the key points in the plan is to balance resource extraction-based industries with protecting the environment.
“Throughout the planning process, a major theme of discussion has been attempting to find a balance between protecting the natural assets that are central to life and work in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, and creating opportunities to take advantage of these assets and allow for future growth and prosperity,” the plan states. “Many of the policies laid out in this plan address the need to find and sustain this balance over the 20 years.”
Land use is another highlighted issue. More than 87 percent of the land in the borough is publicly owned, significantly more than in other states. While the public ownership has preserved many of the area’s ecosystems and access to wilderness, it can also hamper some kinds of access and development, the plan notes.
Quality of life issues, including health, housing, historic preservation and energy infrastructure, are included, as are enhancing transportation infrastructure and exploring public transit options. The final section highlights the need for vocational training in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and for a sustainable fiscal plan for the borough in the future.
During phone surveys, the researchers found there was little support for any taxes beyond some support for local alcohol and tobacco taxes. They suggested refining the proposed bed tax before the borough assembly to address uncertainty concerns, and to ask for public input on how to reduce the borough budget and improve services.
The consultants plan to refine the plan this winter before finalizing it in summer 2018. First, they are seeking public feedback through Jan. 31, 2018. It will be presented to the borough’s Planning Commission for support, followed by the assembly, and the public can testify at both hearings as well.
“Following formal adoption, the new Kenai Peninsula Borough Comprehensive Plan will replace the current plan adopted in 2005, and guide future decisions and actions by the Borough,” the plan states.
Copies of the plan are available on the borough’s website or in paper at the borough administration building in Soldotna or at the annexes in Seward and Homer. Comments can be submitted to Borough Planner Bruce Wall or Agnew Beck Project Manager Shelly Wade, emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Department at 144 North Binkley Street, Soldotna, Alaska.