Bluff erosion was the star of Wednesday’s “State of the City” address, which was delivered by Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel and Kenai City Manager Terry Eubank to an audience at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center. The annual address, which provides updates on city departments and finances, was Eubank’s first as city manager and the fifth in the city’s history.
Among the city’s accomplishments over the last year, Gabriel said, are the removal of 500 trees affected by spruce bark beetles by the Kenai’s Parks and Recreation Department, accreditation of the Kenai Police Department by the Oregon Accreditation Alliance, and the successful treatment of, on average, 580,000 gallons of water per day by the Kenai’s Public Works Department.
Gabriel described the city’s gross sales as “a good barometer” for how the city is doing. Kenai businesses generated roughly $683 million in gross sales in 2022, which included about $304.6 million in taxable sales. That taxable sales amount is up 4.45% from the previous year.
“I’m kind of proud of this slide,” Gabriel said. “I think this sort of sees where we’re going as a community. Twenty-two consecutive quarters of year over year growth I think is a great indication of, sort of, how we’re going.”
Those stats come as the city crafts its annual budget for the upcoming fiscal year. That task was previously overseen by Eubank who, prior to coming as city manager in January, served as Kenai’s finance director. Larry Semmens is serving as the city’s interim finance director, Eubank told attendees Wednesday.
Eubank’s comments focused on the City of Kenai’s capital projects. Those projects typically refer to one-time expenditures expected to cost more than $35,000. Kenai currently has 12 such projects in the design phase and seven such projects in the construction phase.
Among those in the design phase are the Kenai Bluff Stabilization project, rehabilitation of certain city roads and runway reconstruction at the Kenai Municipal Airport. Projects in the construction phase include new playground equipment set to be installed at the softball greenstrip in May and roof improvements at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center.
“I really encourage you to go take a look at it and see what our priorities are capital-wise and what we’re investing your own money in,” Eubank said of the city’s capital plan, which is published on the city’s website.
Eubank designated a specific part of the address to talk about the status of the Kenai Bluff Stabilization Project, which has been a priority of the city for more than 30 years. That project aims to stabilize about 5,000 feet of bluff from the mouth of the river to about Pacific Star Seafoods. The bluff is currently eroding at a rate of about 3 feet per year.
The city has all of the money it needs to get the project — expected to not cost more than $35 million — done.
The total cost will be split between the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski secured $28 million in federal funding for the Corp’s contribution through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, while the State of Alaska chipped in $6.5 million for the City of Kenai’s match. The city’s project match was reduced to 10% of total project costs under the U.S. Water Resources Development Acts, Eubank said.
All of those initiatives, he said, come as design work on the bluff stabilization project is 95% complete, with work expected to begin next year.
“What I’m absolutely confident is you’re going to see big rocks at the toe of the bluff in Kenai in 2024,” Eubank said.