Kenai Peninsula gets 6 projects in capital budget

The Kenai Peninsula will get a few projects funded in the Legislature’s fiscal year 2018, the majority of which are in Seward.

The Legislature approved a approximately $1.4 billion capital budget for the coming year in a brief special session in late July, which lays out funding for each state department’s projects. This year’s budget is greatly pared down from previous years and relies in large part on federal funds.

Six projects on the Kenai Peninsula made the cut. Two are under the supervision of the Alaska Railroad Corporation, focusing on planning and design for the Seward Cruise Ship Terminal and safety enhancements for the Seward Dock. Another two are being supervised by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and funded through Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustees Council funds for bank restoration and for land purchases in the Kachemak Bay area. The final two projects are deferred maintenance projects being overseen by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The Alaska Railroad Corporation owns dock facilities next to the Seward small boat harbor. Currently, cruise ships land at the West Dock and freight moves across the east dock.

The corporation, which is a state-owned corporation but functions independently, has been working on a long-term plan for the port called Railport Seward to further developments at the cruise ship dock. The $300,000 allocated for the project in the capital project will go toward reining conceptual designs and developing strategies for project funding and investment, said Alaska Railroad External Affairs Manager Tim Sullivan.

The other project, a total of $1.2 million, will go toward ongoing repairs at the existing passenger dock, such as repairing corroded piling, connections and bin walls, Sullivan wrote.

“There may be some additional repair work if we identify other areas of deficiencies,” he wrote. “This work is critical to keep the existing facility serviceable.”

The funds come from proceeds collected through the commercial passenger vessel tax, a $34.50 excise tax on each passenger on cruise ships, according to the capital project funding requests from the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, the state department the funds were granted through.

The EVOS projects include bank restoration projects in six Kenai Peninsula state parks and the purchase of lands in the Kachemak Bay area. The first request, more than $2 million, is meant to restore parks that have been adversely impacted by human activities, including recreational access, according to the Department of Natural Resources’ capital budget request.

One of the projects included is on the Kenai River Flats, along the southern bank of the Kenai River near the Warren Ames Bridge. The area is highly trafficked during the Kenai River personal-use dipnet fishery, resulting in trampled vegetation and damage to the bank. The Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation has eyed a project to install elevated light-penetrating boardwalks and four sets of river access stairs. The other parks included in the request are Eagle Rock, Crooked Creek State Recreation Site, the Kenai River Ranch on Funny River Road, the Pipeline Crossing area and the Anchor River State Recreation Area.

DNR is planning to use the second capital project appropriation, about $1.5 million, to purchase land in Kachemak Bay — specifically, surface estate on Gull Island, other nearby Barrier Islands, a portion of a spit in China Poot Bay and uplands in parts of the Jakalof and Rocky River headwaters. The lands include critical habitat for the largest seabird colony in Kachemak Bay, according to the capital request document.

“It also provides nesting, rearing, feeding, resting and winter concentration habitats for many tens of thousands of shorebirds, sea bird sand other migratory species,” the request states. “…The islands and China Poot Spit receive high recreational visitor use due to their proximity to the City of Homer and Kachemak Bay State Park.”

The two Department of Labor projects are both reappropriations of prior projects on the Alaska Vocational Technical Center’s campus in Seward. Together worth about $773,000, the funds are meant for deferred maintenance projects on campus’s 16 buildings, including improving fire egress, cafeteria safety and health renovation and campus-wide asphalt, sidewalk, curb and retaining wall repairs, according to the capital funding request. The highest priority is the fire egress in the First Lake Facility, AVTEC’s headquarters.

“This deficiency must be addressed quickly to ensure the safety of AVTEC students and staff and comply with Seward building safety code,” the request states.

The six projects are the only ones specific to the Kenai Peninsula, though there are a number of statewide projects that may also benefit the Kenai. Those projects include Alaska House Finance Corporation housing projects, community block grants, snowmachine trail development program funds and sportfishing recreational boating and angler access funds, according to the capital budget documents.

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

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