A group of Nikiski residents spearheading an effort to incorporate the area into a home-rule city have reached another benchmark in the process.
Nikiski Incorporation Study Group member Stacy Oliva said she and some other volunteers delivered their finished petition to incorporate to Alaska’s Local Boundary Commission in Anchorage on Wednesday. The group needed 268 signatures, or 15 percent of the number of registered voters inside the proposed city area during the last general election, before they could turn the petition in. They were able to gather 336 verified signatures plus some more that are unverified, Oliva said.
“They (the Local Boundary Commission) will verify the signatures, even though our team verified signatures (as well),” she said.
This signals the start of the commission’s review process, which Oliva said should take about a year. The commission will identify which areas of the petition it needs public comment on, and those comments will take time to collect, she said. If the commission found a technical error in the petition, for example, that could extend the review process as well, Oliva said.
“They’ll start their review process and give us their schedule and their outline,” she said.
While the idea of incorporating Nikiski has been around for years, group members have said this most recent push to become a home-rule community stemmed from a wish for more local control over the direction of Nikiski and the funds generated from the community’s four service areas. Nikiski’s current representation to the Kenai Peninsula Borough is borough assembly member Wayne Ogle, one of nine assembly members who has been advising the study group in their efforts.
The Local Boundary Commission will send out notices when the time comes for Nikiski residents and others to submit their feedback, for or against.
“There will be many, many opportunities for the people to chime in and give their opinions on incorporation,” said group member Norm Olson.
While the Local Boundary Commission has final say over whether the question of incorporation can be put on a ballot for Nikiski voters, other entities like the borough can weigh in before the commission decides whether to approve the petition.
Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said the borough will wait to see what exactly the incorporation petition is asking and will comment when given the chance.
“What we’ll do as soon as we get notification of it is we’ll figure out what the impacts are going to be for the borough,” he said.
The proposed boundaries for an incorporated city of Nikiski follow the existing Nikiski Fire Service Area, which stretches across to the west side of Cook Inlet to include the communities of Beluga and Tyonek and covers roughly 5,400 square miles.
Some critics of the push to incorporate have said at open house meetings hosted by the study group that they want to know more about how the logistics of incorporating that large of an area would work. Group members have said it made sense to keep the proposed boundaries the same as the existing service area so as to continue providing those fire and rescue services to communities across Cook Inlet. Olson pointed out that if the proposed city boundaries were shrunk down to just the east side of the inlet, the west side communities could be left in the lurch when it comes to those services.
The draft home-rule charter formed by the study group members and submitted to the Local Boundary Commission along with the petition also calls for an ambassador from Tyonek to the Nikiski city council, which the draft charter proposes be made up of eight members and a voting mayor. Tyonek residents would also be eligible to run for a regular seat on the council if they wanted to, according to the draft charter.
Those and other details of the home-rule charter are not final can be tweaked throughout the incorporation process, Oliva said in a previous Clarion interview. For now, she said Wednesday, the group members will wait to hear back from the Local Boundary Commission.
“The group of volunteers in Nikiski that have been working on this have been so fantastic, and they have just given so much effort to this process,” she said.
To view the group’s petition to incorporate Nikiski and its draft home-rule charter, visit nikiskiinc.org.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.