Although three Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly seats are up for re-election in the October election, familiar faces will fill two of them.
District 3, which covers the Nikiski area and a broad swath of Cook Inlet’s west side, including the Alaska Native villages of Beluga and Tyonek, will retain its incumbent, Wayne Ogle, after no challengers submitted their names for the upcoming election on Oct. 4. Similarly, Soldotna’s Dale Bagley, the only candidate for the District 4 assembly seat representing Soldotna, Ridgeway and Mackey Lake, will retain his seat for a second term.
Ogle, a 12-year resident of Alaska and U.S. Coast Guard veteran, said Nikiski faces several major issues over the next few years, including the potential Alaska LNG Project plant site and an ongoing effort to incorporate a City of Nikiski. A group of locals has been pursuing incorporation for the last several years and is preparing to submit a petition to the state’s Local Boundary Commission, which would designate the borders of the city.
Although a major driving issue would be the coming of the LNG plant, there are more benefits to incorporation, he said. Although he has not been directly involved with the petition efforts, he has attended the incorporation group’s meetings on an advisory basis.
“What would change would be that we have more discretion as far as dealing with local issues,” Ogle said. “Like our roads … and right now, (the Alaska LNG Project managers) don’t have anyone to deal with locally.”
The Alaska LNG Project has hit several roadblocks as the state transitions into leadership, with the producer partners — BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil — scaling back their involvement. One of the effects of the changes has been uncertainty in Nikiski, where many locals sold their land to the project and others are waiting to see if they would have to sell. The project managers also presented Nikiski residents with a sprawling map of options for a re-route of the Kenai Spur Highway, locally referred to as “the spaghetti map,” last fall but did not select a final route.
Ogle said he would like to see the road issue resolved to give locals more certainty. Borough Mayor Mike Navarre has said his administration will request the project managers make a decision on the road route sooner rather than later, which Ogle said he appreciates.
On the borough budget, Ogle said he thought the assembly did a good job reducing where it could and making changes like consolidating two borough departments and closing Central Peninsula Landfill for a day each week in the fall and winter. Ogle said he didn’t necessarily agree with what he said was a common assumption that revenue should increase each year.
The assembly will have to address a number of issues in the coming year: balancing the budget with a reduction in state funding, proposals on how to reduce health care costs in the borough and a mayoral election when Navarre reaches the end of his second term in 2017. Ogle said he planned to stay involved and may take up the seat of assembly president, which will be up for grabs after the October election. The position comes with restrictions to when the president can speak on issues and requires the person to moderate the discussions rather than always engaging in them, which Ogle said he was still considering.
“I feel my job is to represent Nikiski,” he said. “As the assembly president, you’re not carrying forth issues.”
Bagley said the budget would be the biggest concern in the future. The state contributes to a number of borough functions, some more visible than others, and the still-yawning $3.2 billion budget gap will take a toll on the borough in a variety of places, from education funding to roads, he said.
A Soldotna realtor and the co-owner of Redoubt Realty, Bagley has said multiple times in assembly meetings the real estate market on the peninsula is doing well, and the local economy is doing fairly well. A record number of tourists came to Alaska this year, the price of oil is climbing and the commercial fishing season, though it did not live up to pre-season expectations, did alright this year, he said.
“One of the things I like to point out to people is that the state government doesn’t dictate our economy,” he said. “Our economy dictates our economy.”
In upcoming meetings, he said he plans to introduce several new ordinances. One would propose a permanent vehicle registration process for vehicles older than eight years old, exempting them from having to renew their registration every two years. The change would help vehicle owners who have a number of trailers, for example, and reduce the workload for the Alaska Department of Motor Vehicles.
He also said he planned to introduce a set of parameters for those wishing to give an invocation before the assembly. The issue arose in August when a member of the Temple of Satan offered an invocation, inciting uproar in the community. The borough assembly had opened up the process to anyone who wished to give an invocation after a number of people had expressed concern about the historically Christian tilt of the invocations, at which point Assembly President Blaine Gilman proposed an ordinance to eliminate the invocation. That met with objections from the religious community, so the compromise of allowing anyone to give prayer arose.
Bagley said he would like to see some reasonable guidelines for who can give a prayer, though he had not signed off on the proposal yet and did not want to go too into detail on it.
“You don’t have to make it a prayer, but don’t get up there and read a political statement,” Bagley said. “We can’t dictate what they say, but we can suggest guidelines of what they’re looking for, whether it’s a pastor or atheist or some other religion.”
Voters in Districts 3 and 4 can cast their ballots for their assembly representatives on the Oct. 4 ballot in the municipal election. Absentee ballots are available, either by mail or in person at the Kenai Peninsula Borough building in Soldotna, the Borough Annex Building in Homer or the City Clerk’s office in all the cities of the peninsula except Soldotna.
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.