After months of debate, assembly reduces Nikiski planning group to east side
After more than nine months of public testimony and debate, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is shrinking the scope of a Nikiski planning group to no longer include 3.5 million acres and a Native village within its boundaries.
The Nikiski Advisory Planning Commission, or APC, was established last September following advocacy from Nikiski residents who wanted a say in local planning decisions, normally made by the borough-wide planning commission.
The original boundaries encompassed Nikiski and surrounding land on the east side of the inlet, as well as millions of acres on the west side — within them, the Native Village of Tyonek. Representatives from Nikiski argued the two areas, though geographically separated, were one community, and pointed to shared service areas and recreation.
But west-side residents said that decision was made without their consent and rejected the characterization of the west side as a part of the Nikiski community. In December, assembly members introduced an ordinance to reduce the size of the APC.
On Tuesday night, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly finally voted to reduce the APC to just the east side of the inlet, following several proposed amendments and a lengthy postponement.
One of those amendments was brought forth by Nikiski Assembly Member Peter Ribbens, with input from sitting APC members. It would have still kept much of the west side within the boundaries of the group, but would have excluded Alaska Native and federal lands from the boundaries.
He said the compromised boundaries would support the civic engagement of Nikiski residents.
“There are various APCs and boards throughout the borough, and many of them struggle to get participation,” he said. “Whereas this north peninsula APC, you’ve got a very dedicated group of people who are eager to do it, and this group ought to be in the business of supporting that sort of thing.”
However, the assembly voted his amendment down.
Assembly President Brent Johnson said it was important to honor the input from the west side, which included dozens of letters from Tyonek residents and peninsula Native corporations.
“I’m looking at the strong feelings of the folks that live on the other side of the inlet in the Tyonek area,” he said. “They have strong feelings, and they don’t want to have an APC that’s on the east side telling people on the west side what to do.”
The vote was delayed several times because of the absence of Assembly Member Richard Derkevorkian, but ultimately the assembly moved forward without him. They passed the resolution 6-2, with the “no” votes cast by Ribbens and Member Bill Elam.
Nikiski APC member Karen McGahan expressed her disappointment with the outcome after months of work from her group.
“It’s ridiculous that this went this way. It’s blown out of proportion,” she said. “How many meetings did we come to? How many times did we change the map? And then we had just barely begun to function with the original district that you voted in.”
The new APC boundaries include about 300 thousand acres, which still makes it the largest APC in the borough.