As a life-long Kenai resident, Henry Knackstedt has been involved in the community from the air and on the ground.
Knackstedt, 53, has been a licensed pilot for 36 years with 25 years of service in the Kenai Civil Air Patrol as command pilot. For the last 20 years he has served on the Kenai Airport Commission and is currently the chairman.
On the ground, Knackstedt works for the Kenai Peninsula Borough as a road engineer. For the last four years, he has served on the Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission.
Knackstedt said is decided to run for Kenai City Council because he believes he has a varied experience that would benefit the city that is undergoing a period of growth.
“I think I work well with citizens and I try to do that as a commission member and in my personal life,” he said. “I classify myself as a leader not a follower. I like to get a consensus and gather the best information and present it.”
Knackstedt was recently elected chairman of the board to the Kenai Community Foundation, a non-profit organization made up of various members of the community. The foundation receives donations from the public that benefit the Kenai Parks and Recreation Department with the goal to enhance neighborhood parks, he said.
Along with owning a consulting company with his wife of 28 years, Lilly, Knackstedt has two children, Carolyn and Kate, both off to college.
“Family is the most important thing in my life,” he said. “To keep my sanity when I’m not flying I like to garden.”
One area he would like to see the city improve is in creating a walkability plan to connect the community to city parks and other destinations.
When some of his family visited this summer, Knackstedt took them on a walk of the city but they couldn’t find a good way to get from the high school to the beach. As a borough road engineer, he worked on the Soldotna trails transportation plan and would like to get some funding for a study to create a similar trail system.
“Kenai has always been drive from here to there but I think a trail to connect parks can be implemented in phases,” he said.
With the increased activity in the oil and gas industry in the Cook Inlet, the potential for a natural gas pipeline in Kenai’s backyard is an exciting prospect, he said. In his time on the planning and zoning commission he has helped the city zone and prepare lots for industrial development on Marathon Road and revised lease lots at Kenai Municipal Airport to attract new business.
“A lot of what government does is to encourage things to happen and work with the city to spur development,” Knackstedt said. “The problem is getting people to come in and make those investments… Sometimes we need to invite them.”
He said he already sees satellite oil service businesses moving into the fringes of town, which he sees as an appropriate area for development. If the city can continue to plan ahead with its infrastructure, it will encourage private development to move in, which will in turn, allow the city to maintain or lower its mill rate.
Knackstedt said he is fiscally conservative and believes the city should continue to keep government small. He said he didn’t have a problem with the city raising the mill rate from 3.85 to 4.35 because it was reasonable and necessary with the increased costs in health care.
“Nobody wants to pay more for things but we have to be able to fund things,” he said. “The city is in great fiscal condition and the airport is self-sustaining and doesn’t cost the city.”
One area in which he believes the city council could do a better job is using the city manager and city attorney more when crafting legislation. The time spent tweaking ordinances during council meetings could be better spent if the administration was used to its fullest extent, he said.
The various committees that work in an advisory capacity to the city council should also be allowed time to weigh in on certain bills that would apply to their area, he said.
When the council passed the free boat launch ordinance on Sept. 3, the harbor commission wasn’t consulted prior to the vote. Kenai City Manager Rick Koch produced a memo prior to the meeting that free boat launching at the city dock outside of dipnet season could cost the city $6,000.
Knackstedt said he found it frustrating that the commission wasn’t consulted and felt they were disenfranchised. He didn’t see the need for the bill to be rushed.
“I want to be the guy that if something I was putting through I would go to the commission and try to be the leader and gain their support,” he said. “Someone has to carry the flag. Five brains are better than one. I don’t care how smart someone thinks they may be. Sometimes the most unlikely things are the best solutions.”
Knackstedt was involved in creating the comprehensive plan that was voted down by voters after the council passed last October. He said while some people have expressed an interest in seeing Old Town return to be the city core, he said that is not realistic. He said until the bluff gets stabilized, not a lot of development at Millennium Square could take place.
Over the next 30 years he sees Old Town transforming into a historical district that is still open to some development. He said the revitalization has already taken place with the beautiful Dena’ina Wellness Center.
“Over time that area could be revitalized and attract visitors as a destination everyone will want to visit when coming to Kenai,” he said.
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.