Betty Lou Drive is shown in this screenshot taken from the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s online parcel viewer. The land owners on the road west of Fields Road recently petitioned the borough to ask them to stop maintaining the road because they wanted to avoid an upgrade construction project they said would “change the character” of their neighborhood. (Image courtesy Kenai Peninsula Borough)

Betty Lou Drive is shown in this screenshot taken from the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s online parcel viewer. The land owners on the road west of Fields Road recently petitioned the borough to ask them to stop maintaining the road because they wanted to avoid an upgrade construction project they said would “change the character” of their neighborhood. (Image courtesy Kenai Peninsula Borough)

Residents petition borough: Stop maintaining our road

A group of property owners asked the Kenai Peninsula Borough to stop maintaining their road, picking up the job themselves.

The property owners on Betty Lou Drive west of Fields Road, which runs alongside the Kenai River near Sterling, successfully petitioned the Kenai Peninsula Borough to stop maintaining their road, leaving it up to the residents to take care of it. The point was to avoid an upgrade project that will widen, elevate and clear parts of Betty Lou Drive to make it easier for the borough to maintain.

The residents wanted to maintain the character of the road, which is quiet and tree-lined, said resident Chris Stevens during his testimony to the borough assembly Sept. 5. The construction will cut down trees and expose houses as well as upgrading the road, allowing more public traffic to come down attempting to access the river.

“When the borough came up with their plan to reconstruct the road, those of us who live (there) became very concerned because it would totally change the character of the road and the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s a little two-lane country road and we all enjoy living there because of the way it is.”

In objection, they went to the borough and asked how they could avoid the upgrade. To do so, they needed to get all of the property owners to sign an agreement saying they were okay with stopping borough road maintenance, including grading and snow plowing, and bring it to the Road Service Area Board and the borough assembly. They did so, and both bodies approved it.

That was surprising enough — through other processes, like local option zones or utility special assessment districts, it’s difficult to convince a group of property owners to agree on something, said borough roads engineer Henry Knackstedt. He said he met with the property owners and walked them through the process before submitting the petition.

“What I (told) these folks is, ‘I’ll do everything I can to keep you going in the right direction, I can’t speak for you but if you can get a petition, everybody signs it, everybody agrees,’” he said. “…They were able to do that. I applaud them. It’s tough enough with three people to get everybody to agree.”

It’s not the first time the borough has decertified a road, Knackstedt said. Some of the other cases have involved one person on the end of a long driveway, or in a fairly isolated spot, which has made it easier to obtain signatures. Because the road provides access to houses and borough code blocks the decertification of road that provides access to houses, the petition needed assembly approval to waive that section of code, Knackstedt said.

It’s a prescribed process that takes a fair amount of time and paperwork, and one of the things the roads department stresses is that if the residents choose to take themselves out of the road service area, they will have to bring the road back up to current standards if they want to apply for maintenance service again.

Stevens said in his testimony that they were clear on that.

“It’s really a win-win,” Stevens said. “We don’t want the work done, and the borough doesn’t have to spend the money to upgrade the road and to do the work on the road. You can spend it elsewhere, and you don’t have to maintain it. We’re going to maintain it … we took that on because we feel so strongly about it.”

The rest of the project to improve the road will make Betty Lou Drive significantly better, Knackstedt said. The current road is too close to the power poles and has no ditching, so snowmelt and rain runoff flood the right of way and cause damage to the surface. The roads department staff plan to move the main corridor of the road away from the power poles, clear some trees away from the sides to make for better visibility and ease of maintenance, elevate the road way and add ditching and culverts along the sides, he said.

“It’s a pretty significant amount of work,” he said. “I asked them to have that in there, in their petition. If they have second thoughts … no, we can’t (just restart maintenance). There’s a whole process to putting a road on maintenance.”

The borough’s Road Service Area covers the entire peninsula and maintains about 630 miles of roads, only 5 percent of which are paved. Many offshoots of roads are not maintained by the borough, with residents either grading and plowing them themselves or privately hiring contractors to do the job. Residents can apply to have a road added to maintenance, but it has to have a final recorded plat and meet current design and construction standards unless the Road Service Area Board approves an exception.

The assembly members approved it with no objection on the consent agenda, based on the approval of the Road Service Area Board and the support of the residents.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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