While it’s popular to think of government as the cause of most of our problems, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is taking a shot at actually solving one.
On Tuesday, the assembly is slated to introduce an ordinance to establish the Eastern Peninsula Highway Emergency Service Area. The ordinance has the potential to save lives on some of the Kenai Peninsula’s most remote, yet most heavily traveled roads.
The idea behind the ordinance is to find a better way to provide emergency services along the Seward Highway and the Sterling Highway east of Cooper Landing. As the only route on and off the peninsula, those roads see heavy traffic year-round, with increases throughout the summer months.
But those roads also cut through the Chugach National Forest, and as such, there are very few residents in the region to pay for emergency services. Currently, volunteer fire departments from Cooper Landing, Moose Pass and Bear Creek, which are already spread thin, are the first responders in the region. If they’re not available, Central Emergency Services responds from its Sterling station, 30 miles from Cooper Landing.
Creating the service area would give the borough a mechanism to provide a better response on the eastern peninsula. Lawmakers from the peninsula have put forward legislation that would allow the borough to establish a service area where there aren’t any voters to approve it. Funding to support emergency services, estimated at $350,000, would potentially come from the payment in lieu of taxes the borough receives from the federal government.
We encourage assembly members to move forward with the ordinance, which, if introduced, would be scheduled for a public hearing on May 16. It’s not reasonable to expect residents of small communities like Cooper Landing and Moose Pass to continue to shoulder the responsibility for responding accidents for the thousands of motorists who pass through the region. They simply don’t have the resources to be able to do it day in and day out.
As Alaska State Troopers Director James Cockrell wrote in a letter of support to Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, “Improved emergency response along crucial highways in the state will benefit all Alaska residents.”
Borough residents already are paying for emergency services on the eastern peninsula; this plan would allow those services to be better delivered. And in the event of an emergency along the highway, a better response can mean the difference between life and death.