The City of Soldotna received more than $150,000 in state grant money to tackle city trees that are infested with spruce bark beetles. Soldotna City Council members gave city administrators the greenlight last month to use some of the city’s federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to pay for the work if grant funding fell through.
Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen confirmed during Wednesday’s council meeting that Centennial and Swiftwater campgrounds — both sites of tree removal work — have reopened to the public. Both campgrounds were closed to the public for most of May while trees were removed.
City council members approved last month the award of two contracts totalling about $110,000 for the removal of trees that “presented the most obvious hazard to people and property,” wrote C.O. Rudstrom, who is managing hazard tree mitigation efforts for the city.
“As the dead trees were removed it became apparent that there are more dead and infected trees than first estimated,” Rudstrom wrote. “Removing these additional trees is necessary to allow the safe opening of these parks to the public.”
Across both Centennial and Swiftwater parks, for example, the actual number of dangerous trees — about 1,735 — is almost double what the city initially identified as dangerous — 950. Taking down those extra trees costs about $55,000, Rudstrom wrote, which the state added to Soldotna’s grant.
In all, the City of Soldotna has received just over $165,000 from the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for the removal of hazardous trees. That money will cover both contracts.
The city first applied in January 2020 for funds to remove beetle-killed trees and to conduct fire hazard mitigation work. That application, submitted to the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program through Alaska’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, described about $300,000 worth of proposed work across more than 375 acres of city land citing the wildfire risk of infected trees.
Other sites identified by the city as being of particular concern when it comes to beetle-killed trees include Soldotna Memorial Park, Aspen Park, Three Friends Dog Park and Parker Park.
Soldotna’s efforts to remove hazardous beetle-killed trees come as other municipalities take similar measures. The City of Kenai plans to open a slash disposal site as soon as next week for locals and is actively taking down trees infested with spruce bark beetles. The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Land Management Division is currently working on a timber sale and reforestation program that would address infested trees on borough land.
As of 2020, more than 150,000 acres of forest had been impacted by spruce bark beetle infection on the Kenai Peninsula, including about 21,000 acres of forested land between Cooper Landing, Kenai and Soldotna, according to the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
The Soldotna City Council’s Wednesday night meeting can be viewed on the city’s website at soldotna.org.