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Borough Assembly chooses Ribbens to fill Bjorkman vacancy

Riley Board

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly has a new member. Peter Ribbens was appointed by the assembly last night, Jan. 17, to temporarily fill the seat left vacant by Jesse Bjorkman, who was sworn into the Alaska State Senate yesterday.

Four candidates filed for the District 3 seat, which covers Nikiski and some communities on the west side of Cook Inlet.

Ribbens, the first candidate to apply for the seat, is a part-time environmental consultant in the oil and gas industry, and worked for more than 20 years as an environmental professional and emergency response coordinator for the Tesoro Alaska refinery in Nikiski, according to his application for the seat.

Other candidates for the seat included local business owner Heidi Covey, who has served on several local community boards, as well as long-time swimming and diving coach William Hubler and former business-owner and Nikiski Planning Commission member Lenora Niesen.

Each candidate had three minutes to speak at last night’s assembly meeting. During his presentation, Ribbens said he plans to focus on balancing personal freedoms with providing essential services for the community of Nikiksi.

“The borough is currently facing significant social and economic challenges. Among these, providing quality essential services with healthy revenue sources is arguably the greatest,” he said. “Personal freedoms are a critical element of why Kenai residents are so passionate about the state, and I’m committed to reviewing all assembly decisions with those freedoms in mind.”

Ribbens described himself as an avid political news consumer who became more interested in public service after being elected to the Nikiski Fire Service Area Board in 2019.

“My goal for this eight-month appointment is an analytical and collaborative process of decision making,” he said.

Ribbens received five votes from sitting assembly members during secret ballot procedure, with the other three going to Covey.

Kenai Assembly Member Richard Derkevorkian was one of three votes against Ribbens’ appointment. He said Covey had more public support.

“We are here to represent the constituents of the KPB, and we should respect their wishes and appoint the candidate that the majority of the community contacted us about,” he said. “The assembly would be remiss to appoint anyone other than Heidi [Covey] to the seat.”

Ribbens was quickly sworn in, and participated in the rest of the meeting as an assembly member. In closing comments, he thanked the other applicants and assembly members.

“It’s a humbling and awesome opportunity for me to represent Nikiski. Clearly, I’ve got a lot to learn,” he said.

Ribbens will serve until the next regular election in October.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.
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