Soldotna Prep School is pictured on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019 in Soldotna, Alaska. Relocating the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administration to the location is one of the projects for which the borough is seeking state funds. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna Prep School is pictured on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019 in Soldotna, Alaska. Relocating the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administration to the location is one of the projects for which the borough is seeking state funds. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna Prep School is pictured on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019 in Soldotna, Alaska. Relocating the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administration to the location is one of the projects for which the borough is seeking state funds. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion) Soldotna Prep School is pictured on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019 in Soldotna, Alaska. Relocating the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administration to the location is one of the projects for which the borough is seeking state funds. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Borough to lobby state for $87 million for local projects

The projects include funds for a new fire station, school district relocation and flood mitigation

The expansion of broadband in rural communities and the construction of a new fire station in Soldotna are among the projects members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly plan to emphasize when lobbying for state money in Juneau. Two separate lists of priorities have been approved by the assembly within the last month — the most recent during the body’s Feb. 1 meeting.

The list of priorities approved by the assembly last Tuesday outlines 11 projects throughout the borough that total around $47 million. They range in price from $3,200 to $16.6 million and are meant to be geographically representative of needs throughout the borough.

A separate list of priorities — approved by the assembly in January — outlines four additional projects, totalling about $40.5 million, that the borough would like to see funded through money Alaska receives under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The package is focused on infrastructure and would help ensure the “safety and prosperity” of borough residents, borough administrators wrote in a memo to the assembly.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce said during a Feb. 1 meeting of the assembly finance committee that assembly members should use the collection of projects as a guide when visiting the state Legislature in Juneau to lobby for state funding.

“This is a list that the administration and staff has worked on and established for you to consider … when you go and grovel and ask for any funds that the state might receive in the way of capital improvements,” Pierce said.

Projects included in the list describe the construction of a new fire station for Central Emergency Services, the relocation of Kenai Peninsula Borough School District to the Soldotna Prep School building and flood mitigation efforts at Japanese Creek, in Anchor Point and Kwechak Creek.

The list also describes $6.25 million in improvements to the Jason Peterson Memorial Ice Rink maintained by the North Peninsula Recreation Service Area, $3.2 million to rehabilitate a section of Basargin Road that does not meet borough requirements and $300,000 to replace radio equipment for the Nikiski Fire Service Area.

Pierce said assembly members should try to get every project on the capital priority list funded while down in Juneau.

“If you go down to Juneau and you don’t get all … of them funded, you didn’t do a good enough job, is the way I see it,” Pierce said. “They’re all important, so go down and advocate on behalf of all of them. We could use these projects, and if we could find a way to have them supplemented and covered? What a blessing.”

Some assembly members expressed frustration about the late delivery of the priorities during the assembly’s finance committee meeting on Tuesday. Assembly member Jesse Bjorkman pushed back on the statement that not getting projects funded meant assembly members weren’t doing a good enough job, while Assembly President Brent Johnson said knowing specific projects earlier would have allowed them to be more proactive.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Purchasing and Contracting Director John Hedges told assembly members Tuesday that the process of compiling a list of projects to send to Juneau is something the borough hasn’t done in a while.

“We were kind of resurrecting this process after not providing it to the state for a number of years due to the lack of a capital budget in the first place,” Hedges said. “This year, we realized that there might be an opportunity and we didn’t want to miss out on that opportunity. So we scrambled to put this together in the way that we did.”

Johnson said he, along with assembly members Jesse Bjorkman, Cindy Ecklund and Bill Elam, is planning to go to Juneau after the Feb. 15 assembly meeting, and asked for guidance on what projects they should prioritize. Hedges said it is more difficult for the borough to address expensive projects than it is to address less expensive projects.

“The more expensive, more costly projects are the higher priority for us, but should an opportunity arise to fund one of those projects that might not necessarily make the cut in tougher times, that could be brought up as well,” Hedges said.

Documentation on all of the projects identified as priorities by the assembly can be found on the borough website at kpb.us.

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

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