Sustainability commission gaining traction ahead of vote

Jun 10, 2020

The effort to establish a borough-wide commission on sustainability and climate resilience is gaining broader support coming up to the assembly’s vote on it.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is scheduled to consider whether to establish the commission during its June 16 meeting. The commission would be charged with advising the assembly and administration on goals like reducing waste, improving energy efficiency in buildings and transportation, and increasing local clean energy use, and work with borough staff and communities to plan for adaptations to environmental changes, among other goals. The commission would have nine members representing the various regions of the borough and four at-large seats appointed by the mayor and approved by the assembly.

The borough Planning Commission unanimously voted to support the ordinance at its Monday night meeting. The councils of the five major cities in the borough, as well as the Cooper Landing Advisory Planning Commission, have supported it, as well, citing concerns about environmental changes posing risks to quality of life and declines in tourism. The majority of public comments submitted in writing to the assembly also support the establishment of the commission.

The Kenai City Council passed its supporting resolution at its June 3 meeting, though not without debate. Mayor Brian Gabriel noted that the commission’s goals sound good, but he wanted to see more focus and a seat for the city of Kenai.

"What concerns me a little bit is this commission could be hijacked and there’s a certain agenda that could be pushed that has effects on our economy," Gabriel said. "Everything’s a balance here. If there’s recommendations that put a carbon credit system … those can have real consequences on our industry, such as Tesoro, one of our best and biggest employers in our areas and on the peninsula, for that matter. Or maybe discourage new ones."

The resolutions of support passed by the other cities did not have any conditions. The members of the commission would be volunteers and no funding would be appropriated for the commission, and one of the goals listed in the establishing ordinance would be for the members to seek funding supporting the work of the commission.

Climate change is markedly affecting Alaska, including longer, dryer summers, such as the heat and drought conditions in 2019 that exacerbated the Swan Lake Fire. Warming winters have been tied to increasing erosion, which poses risks to property, and warmer air temperatures pose risks to fish in freshwater and marine environments. The establishment of a borough commission on sustainability was included as an action item in the borough’s comprehensive plan, approved in 2019, as well as recommending the borough develop a climate change action plan.

The assembly is scheduled to consider the ordinance establishing the commission at its June 16 meeting.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@kdll.org.