The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday voted 6-3 to delay action on legislation that would reduce the geographic footprint of Nikiski’s Advisory Planning Commission.
The legislation would move the western boundary of the commission to the east side of Cook Inlet. As approved by assembly members last fall, the commission’s current boundaries include communities on the west side of Cook Inlet, such as Tyonek and Beluga.
Nikiski residents successfully petitioned last year for the creation of an advisory planning commission. Shortly after assembly members approved the commission, however, groups from the west side said they were not consulted during the petition process and do not want to be a part of the commission.
The ordinance considered Tuesday was defeated earlier this month after a tie vote by assembly members, where one assembly absence left the body split. Assembly member Cindy Ecklund, who is one of the ordinance’s co-sponsors, moved to reconsider the issue at the assembly’s Tuesday meeting.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s advisory planning commissions give residents the opportunity to advise the boroughwide planning group on issues affecting their area, including platting, permitting and certain legislative issues.
Nikiski petitioners say west-side communities should be included in Nikiski’s Advisory Planning Commission because of how many Nikiski residents work and recreate in the area. Those in favor also say the boundaries as initially approved are consistent with those of other Nikiski groups.
Residents from the west side community of Tyonek, however, say they were left out of the petition process and do not want to be included in the group. Tyonek is a different community than Nikiski, residents say, with a long history of doing its own land use planning and economic development.
At more than 3.5 million acres, the area included in the boundaries of the Nikiski group as approved by assembly members is more than four times the size of the borough’s other group areas combined. Even if the boundaries were reduced to exclude the west side of Cook Inlet, the commission would still have the largest acreage of any other borough commission by more than 44,000 acres.
Assembly members heard testimony from the heads of both groups during Tuesday’s meeting, including Nikiski Advisory Planning Commission Chairman Jason Ross and Tyonek Native Corporation CEO Stephen Peskosky, who said he traveled from Anchorage to testify in person.
Ross, who said he works on an oil platform on the east side, said commissioners discussed what would happen if Tyonek were removed from the commission’s boundaries and worried it could set a precedent of any group removing themselves from a commission’s boundaries.
“Trying to dissect (Nikiski and Tyonek) away from each other is a very difficult thing in my mind to grasp,” Ross said. “Everybody that lives on the east side considers the west side part of Nikiski. We don’t consider it the other side of the inlet.”
Peskosky said the boundaries outlined in the original ordinance are not representative of local community interests, which is what advisory planning commissions are principled on. He reiterated that many Tyonek residents did not know that there was a petition being circulated until after the assembly had already approved the commission.
“One of the things that I was thinking about when I was digesting this issue was thinking about if the folks of Tyonek or another west side community found it their interest to form an APC and their scope of influence was to include several million acres on the Kenai Peninsula, how would that be received?” Peskosky said. “I think the answer is pretty obvious.”
Included in Tuesday’s assembly packet were 46 identical letters signed by residents of Tyonek asking the assembly to reduce the size of the Nikiski Advisory Planning Commission. The letters say that Tyonek residents are not part of the Nikiski community and there are no common land or cultural ties that justify keeping both in the same boundaries.
Assembly member Brent Hibbert proposed during Tuesday’s meeting an amendment that would have redrawn the commission boundaries in a way that excludes lands on the west side of Cook Inlet owned by Native Corporations, which he said provided a compromise.
Though that amendment failed, assembly members voted to postpone the legislation to allow for more time to come up with a different alternative.
Brent Johnson said that he would vote to postpone despite thinking that the issue is “very simple.” The process has created hard feelings, Johnson said, and he would like to see a better relationship between petitioners and west side residents.
“I hope that in two weeks that we can come forward with a compromise that looks a little bit more, somehow, equal,” Johnson said.
Tuesday’s assembly meeting can be streamed on the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s website at kpb.legistar.com.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at email@example.com.