New Kenai Planner emphasizes listening, balance

New Kenai Planner emphasizes listening, balance

Elizabeth Appleby, who became Kenai’s new city planner on April 9, said she’s practiced the skills of listening to and balancing different interests through her past work as an environmental permitting consultant for Alaska megaprojects including the Donlin Gold mine and the Alaska LNG project.

In mid-March Appleby was hired to replace Kenai’s former city planner Matt Kelley, who held the position from September 2014 to February 2018, when he returned to his native California to work as a planner for Nevada County. Appleby has taken over Kelley’s former duties of measuring proposed development projects against Kenai city code and recommending permit conditions to the Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission.

Though she’s lived in Anchorage for the past four years, Appleby grew up a short drive north of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She earned a bachelor’s degree in conservation biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and in 2008 made her first trip to Alaska as a seasonal worker at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, where she ran a children’s educational program. Her first experience in municipal planning was a 2012 summer internship for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough in Palmer, a town she likened to Kenai.

“I think people live here because they like the small town atmosphere, but they also want to see some economic development and things that make it a nice place to live without losing that small town character,” she said.

While finishing her master’s degree in urban and regional planning at the University of Minnesota, Appleby worked part-time for the engineering consultancy URS, a company she joined full-time in 2014. Part of her job was to collect and compile comments from federal agencies, local governments, and the public on the environmental permitting of proposed projects. Appleby said she “got comfortable listening to people, whether they were in business or environmental groups — the whole spectrum, because I think my job as a planner to listen to all those voices and achieve a vision for the community.”

One project she worked on was the planned Donlin Gold mine in western Alaska’s Yukon-Kuskokwim region.

“I heard a lot of voices from the community saying this will bring jobs, this will help preserve our culture and heritage as Alaska Native people,” Appleby said of the comments she collected for Donlin Gold’s environmental impact statement, which the Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled to release on Friday. “And I’d hear the opposite: this will affect our subsistence lifestyle, it’s going to bring money into the community and people will spend it on things we don’t want to see, like alcohol. … It was my job to organize meetings and listen to comments people made at the meetings, or wrote in, and incorporate them into the Environmental Impact Statement so it reflected what people were saying.”

She did similar work at a public meeting in Nikiski, when her firm was contracted by the Alaska LNG pipeline project around 2016 — before the project was under the management of the state-owned Alaska Gasline Development Corporation.

“I’d hear about the jobs and the economic opportunities, but then there’s also concerns about everything from road maintenance to school attendance, water well usage, if it would affect set-net fishing on the beaches,” Appleby said. “That prepared me to hear things from all sides, and it gave me insight into the LNG project, since I went a lot of places along the proposed route … I got to hear a lot of different voices.”

Appleby said she applied for the job with Kenai because “it would allow me to do more community planning.”

“While I was a consultant, I worked on projects for municipal governments and I liked the idea of being on the other side and being part of the government entity,” she wrote in an email.

One upcoming project that could benefit from Appleby’s experience is Kenai’s upcoming revision of its hazard mitigation plan — a plan to minimize damage from natural disasters, required for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Administration and written with input from state agencies and the Kenai Peninsula Borough — expected later this year. Appleby previously wrote these documents as a consultant.

“I was exposed to a large variety of plans, studies, and code during my time as a consultant, and I think that will provide a good base for me to succeed as a City Planner,” Appleby wrote.

Reach Ben Boettger at bboettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

A parking sign awaits the new executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund at its Juneau headquarters, Three finalists will be interviewed for the job during a public meeting Monday by the fund’s board of trustees, who are expected to deliberate and announce the new director immediately afterward. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Interviews, selection of new Permanent Fund CEO set for Monday

Three finalists seeking to manage $73.7B fund to appear before trustees at public meeting in Juneau

Principal Sarge Truesdell looks at cracked siding outside of Soldotna High School on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. The siding is one of several projects in a bond package Kenai Peninsula voters will consider during the Oct. 4 municipal election. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Critical needs’: Split siding at SoHi

The damage has been given patchwork treatment over the years

Members of Kenai Central High School Esports gather around coach Shane Lopez before their League of Legends match Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Video gaming enters the arena

Kenai Central debuts esports team

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Soldotna man found dead in lake, troopers report

State Troopers were notified of a deceased person floating in Browns Lake

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
COVID hospitalizations, cases down from last week

The state reported no new resident deaths from COVID-19 this week

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
The Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. building in Juneau is scheduled to be the site where the board of trustees will select a new executive director on Monday, following the investigation into the firing of former CEO Angela Rodell last December being presented to state lawmakers on Wednesday.
Investigators: Permanent Fund CEO’s firing legal but departed from policy

Trustees acted legally, despite not following official policy, and governor didn’t influence decision

A fishing boat passes the Silversea cruise ship Silver Wind as the boat enters the Homer Harbor on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Finding refuge

Silver Wind is one of two cruise ships to visit since pandemic.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly candidates Dil Uhlin, left, and Jesse Bjorkman participate in a candidate forum at the Soldotna Public Library on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. Both candidates are running for the assembly’s Nikiski seat. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Nikiski assembly candidates talk borough issues at final municipal election forum

There are three candidates running for the assembly’s District 3 - Nikiski seat

Kenai Middle School Principal Vaughn Dosko gestures toward a cart used to provide school lunch services on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Critical needs’: Security concerns and lunch lines

Safety upgrades, more space sought at Kenai Middle

Most Read