The Swan Lake Fire can be seen from above on Monday, Aug. 26 on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Alaska Wildland Fire Information)

The Swan Lake Fire can be seen from above on Monday, Aug. 26 on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Alaska Wildland Fire Information)

Soldotna City Council rejects wildfire study

The study would look at mental health and well-being in the context of intensifying Alaska wildfires

Soldotna City Council voted down Monday a letter that would support research on mental health and Alaska wildfires.

The proposed research study from the University of Alaska Anchorage and John Hopkins School of Public Health would look at understanding and supporting mental health and well-being in the context of intensifying Alaska wildfires.

At a special Soldotna City Council meeting, the council voted down the opportunity to provide a letter of support for the collaborative project, which would include the city and potential residents in the study.

Council member Lisa Parker, a regent for the University of Alaska, abstained from voting. Vice Mayor Paul Whitney and council member Dave Carey both voted the motion down.

During Monday’s meeting, council member Jordan Chilson said Micha Hahn, professor of environmental science at UAA, is proposing a study assessing the mental health and social impacts in Soldotna. The project would be funded by a grant from John Hopkins School of Public Health.

“The main goal he’s pursuing in this project is to inform and increase preparedness and response capabilities for future wildfires by sharing his findings,” Chilson said Monday. “I think anything that we can do to increase our resiliency as a community — as these are likely to become more commonplace moving forward — I think it would be for our benefit.”

During Monday’s discussion, Whitney said he didn’t see the benefit of the study. He said the broader Kenai Peninsula Borough might be interested in such a study, since many communities within the borough were impacted by the Swan Lake Fire and other fires from this summer season.

“I’m not quite sure what the benefit is to the city,” Whitney said. “I could see where the Kenai Peninsula Borough would be interested in this because whatever that wildfire did, it affected the entire borough, not just the city of Soldotna.”

Without the letter of support from the city, it is unknown if the proposed study will move forward.

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