A sign describing bluff erosion is seen on Kenai North Beach in Kenai, Alaska, on Aug. 6, 2020. The bluff stabilization project is one of several capital improvement projects on the City of Kenai’s agenda. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

A sign describing bluff erosion is seen on Kenai North Beach in Kenai, Alaska, on Aug. 6, 2020. The bluff stabilization project is one of several capital improvement projects on the City of Kenai’s agenda. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai to tackle capital improvement projects

Bridge Access trail, Rec Center upgrades among projects Kenai plans to address this year.

A pedestrian trail along Bridge Access Road, upgrades to the Kenai Recreation Center and repairs to the Kenai Animal Shelter are among the capital projects the City of Kenai hopes to complete this fiscal year, according to a draft of its FY22-FY26 Capital Improvement Plan.

Capital improvement projects are typically one-time expenditures that are expected to cost more than $35,000 and will be useful for more than one year, according to the plan draft. Projects are categorized by which of the city’s six funds would pay for them.

In addition to the general fund, which is the city’s catchall fund used to pay for basic operations, the city controls four special revenue funds that all have their own streams of revenue and annual operating budgets, and as a result their own capital projects.

While not all projects identified in the plan are guaranteed funding, thoughtful spending of federal CARES Act funding by the city last year means there is more money than usual to put toward paying for capital projects, Kenai Finance Director Terry Eubank said last week. The city used some of its COVID relief funding to pay for public safety staffing, which means they now have more money to spend on their capital projects.

The move was partially motivated by a lack of state grants coming from Juneau, which Eubank told the Clarion last week is not happening at the same rate as in previous years due to the state’s unbalanced budget. The money Kenai saved by using CARES Act funds to staff public safety positions, Eubank said last week, will allow the city to “almost fully fund” the general fund portion of the capital plan for the next five years.

Projects the city hopes to fund in FY22, which refers to the city’s fiscal year starting on July 1, 2021 and ending on June 30, 2022, include repairing flooring in the Kenai Animal Shelter, constructing the Bridge Access Pedestrian Trail and replacing the Kenai Rec Center’s HVAC unit and roof, among others.

In all, the CIP identifies an estimated $4,827,000 in projects to be paid for with the city’s general fund for FY22. The city would contribute $1,851,947, while the other $2,975,053 would come for a grant for the Bridge Access Pedestrian Trail. That project would construct a 10-foot wide, 1.3-mile paved and separated pathway along the east side of Bridge Access Road from Beaver Loop Road to Kenai Spur Highway. The project is grant dependent.

Other FY22 projects include Phase II of the Kenai Cemetery Expansion project, which would install fencing and a columbarium pad at the new cemetery site as well as a front entry sign and an underground sprinkler system. Phase III of the project, which is tentatively slated for FY26 or beyond, would add additional burial plots, a storage building and a columbarium.

Kenai currently has a moratorium on the sale of standard cemetery plots, which was implemented in 2017 by the Kenai City Council due to an “extremely limited” number of plots. Kenai City Clerk Jamie Heinz said at the end of February that the Kenai Municipal Cemetery had 10 standard plots and 16 cremation plots available, as well as 90 columbarium niches.

Long-term projects to be funded by Kenai with the general fund include the multiyear Kenai Bluff Stabilization Project, the resurfacing of Willow Street from Kenai Spur Highway to Airport Way and constructing a 5,000-square-foot locker room at the Kenai Multi-Purpose Facility.

The Kenai Bluff Stabilization project is projected to be one of the most costly. That project would aim to stabilize 5,000 feet along the north shore of the Kenai River through the construction of a protective berm at the toe of the bluff. Between FY2023 and FY2024, the total project cost is estimated to be approximately $35 million with $17.5 million allocated each year. Of that, about $25 million would come from grants and the rest would be provided by the city.

On deck for FY22 from the city’s other funds include $500,000 from the Airport Fund for airfield marking, crack sealing and seal coat, $400,000 from the Water & Sewer Fund for lift station renovations, $75,000 from the Senior Citizens Fund to expand the entry to the Kenai Senior Center and $100,000 from the Congregate Housing Fund to remodel kitchens and bathrooms at Vintage Pointe. From the Personal Use Fishery Fund, $125,000 would be used to replace concrete boat ramps at the City Dock in FY22.

The Kenai City Council voted earlier this month to approve the creation of a “Capital Projects Manager” position to be added to the city’s Public Works Department. According to a memo sent from Kenai Public Works Director Scott Curtin to the council as part of that legislation, the position was created in direct response to the scope of projects identified in the city’s FY22-FY26 CIP.

Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander said during a budget work session Saturday that projects that are funded entirely by grants may be bumped from the plan if that grant funding doesn’t come through.

“Some of these that are listed as 100% grant funded — if the grant funding doesn’t come to fruition, they would likely either be pushed out in the plan or dropped from it,” Ostrander said Saturday.

The full draft of Kenai’s Capital Improvement Plan can be found on the city’s website at www.kenai.city.

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

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