City of Kenai

The city of Kenai has been working on a way to stabilize its eroding bluffs for nigh on four decades. The city is now in the final phase of pre-construction design before being able to lock down funding and potentially get the project on the ground.

The bluffs that the city of Kenai sits on have been eroding, badly, for years. As the groundwater goes out, it pushes material out of the bluff to the bottom, where the river perpetually washes it away, accelerating the erosion. If the material falling out could build up, it could establish a slope over time that plants could grow on, making a more stable bluff that could in turn protect the buildings on top from tumbling into the river.

Redoubt Reporter file photo

The annual throngs of fishermen that come from all over Southcentral Alaska to the Kenai River personal-use dipnet fishery are due to arrive in about three weeks, and the city of Kenai is letting them know to expect a few changes this year.

The fishery usually involves big crowds of people congegating on Kenai’s north and south beaches, all filling coolers full of salmon for the winter. In 2018, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game recorded more than 20,000 angler days fished in the Kenai River dipnet fishery. This year, the city of Kenai is making a few changes in hopes of preventing the spread of COVID-19 among the crowds.

The cities of Kenai and Soldotna each have local trail improvement projects in the works for this year, but a change in state policy has thrown wrenches into them.

Kenai is planning to build a paved bike path between the junction of the Kenai Spur Highway and Bridge Access Road down to Beaver Loop Road. This would connect to the newly paved separate bike path along Beaver Loop, creating a completely separated bike path loop between Kenai and Beaver Loop. Soldotna is planning to pave paths in Soldotna Creek Park and expand a path along Homestead Lane toward Swiftwater Campground.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

The platform next to the city of Kenai’s dock will get a new name—the Tarbox Wildlife Viewing Platform.

The name comes from longtime volunteers and wildlife enthusiasts Connie and Ken Tarbox, who helped coordinate the effort to establish the platform at the edge of the Kenai River Flats. Today, it regularly attracts bird viewers, who come to watch the Flats’ many seasonal winged visitors as well as the caribou that regularly crisscross the area.

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.

Through the CARES Act, municipalities are receiving millions of dollars to help recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

But governments can only use the money for direct costs related to COVID-19, like paying emergency responders or buying protective equipment. In Alaska, the biggest economic hit to local governments has been lost revenue, primarily a drop in sales taxes, which isn't an eligible use of CARES money. Cities and boroughs can’t use most of the money they’re being given.

So, municipalities are coming up with ways to pass CARES Act money on to their communities. The city of Kenai has developed a grant program that is becoming a template for other municipalities in the state.

The Kenai City Council approved the program at its meeting June 3.

Redoubt Reporter

Businesses that closed temporarily in March or April have been reopening at various paces for the past several weeks, while public facilities have been a little more hesitant. This week saw a few more facilities reopen to the public, but with some changes.

For example, the Kenai Peninsula Borough buildings reopened Monday during normal business hours, with the exception of the Office of Emergency Management, the Soldotna emergency dispatch center, and the fire and EMS buildings. Visitors are asked to wear cloth masks when they visit and to call ahead to expedite the business they have before they arrive.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

  This weekend, Kenai’s celebrity eagles welcomed their first eaglet of the season, to the delight of viewers watching the City of Kenai’s eagle cam.

Kenai passes 2021 budget with no new taxes

May 27, 2020

Last week, the Kenai City Council passed its budget for fiscal year 2021. Despite the upheaval due to the coronavirus pandemic, the budget is close to status quo, with no property or sales tax increases included.

That’s in part because the city will use some of its fund balance to cover the difference between revenues and expenses, with the general fund using about $757,000 of it. The property tax rate will stay at 4.35 mills, though, the same rate it has been for the past several years.

Redoubt Reporter file photo

The Kenai City Council on May 6 agreed to allow bacteria sampling at the mouth of the Kenai River again this summer, with some misgivings.

The Department of Environmental Conservation has partnered with the Kenai Watershed Forum the past several years to sample water quality at the mouth of the river. That sampling has found levels of fecal coliform and enterococci bacteria that exceed state water quality standards. 

The bacteria are found in the intestinal tracks of warm-blooded animals and can cause stomachaches, diarrhea and ear, eye and skin infections in humans, especially if swallowing water with high levels of bacteria.

Avery Lill/KDLG

RavnAir shut down operations and filed for bankruptcy in April after a steep drop in travel due to COVID-19, leaving a transportation hole in many regions of the state. Alaska Airlines is stepping into some communities to fill that void. 

The airline plans to provide year-round support to Dillingham and King Salmon. Alaska Air spokesperson Tim Thompson said the airline does not have a definite schedule yet but plans to gauge demand once they are able to take off.

“Those schedules could change, just like we do throughout other places in the state of Alaska where we might have a daily service during the summertime, because there’s so much demand,” Thompson said. “We may do every other day, or two-day service in the wintertime, but the goal is to be able to provide year-round service to the region.”

Money from the federal CARES Act, $562.5 million, is slated to go to local municipalities in Alaska to help with the COVID-19 public health crisis. That’s great news for local governments that are reeling from the unexpected blow to tax revenues caused by the slowdown of the economy.

But there is confusion about how, exactly, that money may be spent, leaving some cities concerned that they’ll face penalties or even have to return money in the future if they spend it incorrectly.

Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander testified to the House Finance Committee on Thursday.

“I do think that it’s critical that these funds are distributed to the municipalities and the boroughs across the state,” Ostrander said. “That local control is critical. Communities know where that need is within their community, so I think that is very important.”

Redoubt Reporter file photo

State officials say they are working with commercial, sport and personal-use fishery user groups to figure out a way to conduct fishing season in light of COVID-19.

In a press conference Friday, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum said working groups have been set up to get recommendations on how to keep people safe while still having a fishing season. Crum said there’s a specific group just for coastal communities on the road system.

“There is a group that has actually been started, as well, that (includes) Cook Inlet fisheries trying to figure out this, ‘How are we going to deal with working with coastal communities?’” Crum said. “You know, Homer and Kasilof and Kenai where these boats launch out of to go out for some of those salmon fisheries. And so, yes, that’s an ongoing concern and conversation, talking with the city managers and leadership about those groups.” 

The city of Kenai is contemplating ways to help residents and businesses through the economic hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic. At a council meeting Wednesday, city manager Paul Ostrander said he heard about a town in Oregon that is trying to boost businesses by rewarding people for shopping. 

“It would encourage people to go out and shop locally but also provide some benefit to our residents that are members of our utility,” Ostrander said.

The idea is for any city resident who spends $25 at a local business to get a $15 credit toward their city utility bill. Turn your receipts into the city and get up to a $75 credit for spending $125.


Kenai Fire Cheif Jeff Tucker joined the Kenai Conversation to look back on his 38-year career in fire and EMS, the last six with the city of Kenai. He retired March 20.

The Kenai City Council held a hybrid, in-person and phone-in meeting Wednesday night. The first order of business was extending the city’s emergency declaration in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

City offices and facilities are closed for the time being but staff are still available over email and phone to assist the public.

The council also modified city code to be able to hold meetings more over the phone in the future. Existing code limited how many council and commission members could call in to establish a quorum. Meetings will still be held in a way that allows participation from the public but council and committee members will be participating from afar.

In other business, the council passed a resolution supporting Robert Ruffner for appointment to the Alaska Board of Fisheries. Ruffner is the retired executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum.

The city of Kenai is preparing its fiscal year 2021 budget with several areas of economic strength but still will likely need to implement a tax increase or user fees to make up for the loss in state support for capital projects.

Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel and City Manager Paul Ostrander gave a presentation on the city’s budget last week.

There were several bright spots. Sales tax revenue continues an upward trend. The city’s 3 percent tax rate generates about $244 million, with sales tax revenue making up 54 percent of the city budget. That number should increase even more next year when online sales are taxed, as well.

Property tax is about 29 percent of the city’s budget, with a 4.35 mill rate. But money from the state has declined precipitously in recent years. Shared revenue, mostly in the form of fish taxes, is holding steady, while community revenue sharing funds have been considerably reduced and are likely to drop another $100,000 this year.

Ostrander says the biggest hit is in capital projects.


Redoubt Reporter

If Senate Bill 232 makes it through the Legislature, it will cost $5 for an Alaskan to get a personal-use fishing permit. Sen. Peter Micciche sponsored the bill. It gives the Legislature the ability to appropriate money for the fees for municipalities that host personal-use fisheries.   

At its meeting Wednesday, the Kenai City Council voiced support of the measure. Councilman Robert Peterkin submitted the resolution.

"It’s something that I feel is very important for our community. I don’t feel that the dip-netting operations should fall on city of Kenai residents to support it and I think that this is the first step in trying to get some help with the revenue on this to help provide the services that we’re paying for,” Peterkin said.

Online shoppers on the Kenai Peninsula can expect to pay a little extra for their purchases soon, as the Kenai Peninsula Borough and communities move toward a system of collecting sales taxes from online sales.

The city of Kenai passed a resolution at its meeting Wednesday that paves the way for collecting taxes from online sales.

The Alaska Remote Seller Sales Tax Commission was formed to create a centralized way to collect sales taxes when Alaskans shop online. Collected taxes will be distributed to the borough, which will keep its share and divvy out the amounts due to the cities of Kenai, Soldotna, Seward and Homer.

Where there are masses of fish, there’s likely to be masses of people. And where there are masses of people, there are likely businesses attempting to make some money.

That’s the case with the Kenai personal-use, dip-net fishery. All sorts of businesses have sprouted up along the mouth of the Kenai River, trying to net revenue off the fishermen trying to net fish.

One of those types of businesses came under fire at the Alaska Board of Fisheries this week. The board is meeting in Anchorage to review Upper Cook Inlet fishery proposals through next Wednesday. On Thursday, they voted on a proposal that would ban a relatively new practice — guiding for dip-netters.

Glen Trombley, of Chugiak, owns Expeditions North LLC guiding service. During July, when the reds are running, he runs the Dip Ship in the mouth of the Kenai River, taking dip-netters out to get their personal-use sockeye.

“Some, for whatever reason, cannot physically access this particular fishery without some type of assistance. Not to mention families with small children that would normally not be able to participate from shore due to safety issues,” Trombley said.

The Kenai City Council on Wednesday joined Soldotna in passing a resolution supporting House Bill 198, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes under the state's existing hate crimes statute.

Tammie Willis testified to the council. She was attacked at her home in Sterling on Dec. 9. Before that, she found a note on her truck full of gay slurs and threatening violence. She also had her windshield smashed by a rock that bore a gay slur. She says the Federal Bureau of Investigations has taken over the case under the federal hate crimes statute, since Alaska law lacks a provision to consider the three instances together as a hate crime.

“For the life of me, I don't know why every other class was included in the list of aggravators but sexual orientation and gender identity,” Willis said. “But we are the population of people that is facing the most violence and the most hate right now. It's grown tremendously over the last three years and it's being definitely felt here on the peninsula, as well. So this is an important piece of legislation. And your resolution means a lot to us in the LGBTQ community because it shows that this is a community that's not going to tolerate the hate."

Willis says two things would change if HB 198 were to become law. It would mean hate crime statistics could be tracked for Alaska. There's currently no good way to gather that data since Alaska doesn't consider crimes motivated by anti-LGBTQ sentiment as hate crimes.

"Consequently, when a hate crime occurs towards someone in the LGBTQ community, whether the troopers or the Soldotna police or anybody actually looks into it and considers it a hate crime, it's not being reported to the FBI, so it's not included in the FBI statistics, so we don't have any real numbers of what the hate crime rate is in Alaska against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity," she said.

Neighborhood park could soon return to city hands

Dec 23, 2019

The Kenai City Council has joined municipal bodies elsewhere on the peninsula and called on the Alaska Department of Transportation to keep the Silvertip road maintenance station open and staffed during the winter.
    The station, on the Hope Turnoff, provides service to the Seward Highway.
    Part of Gov. Mike Dunleavey’s austerity budget plan included sweeping cuts to all departments, including the DOT.
    How the cuts are affecting those elsewhere was on the mind of Councilman Tim Navarre when he discussed the resolution.

City's wish list ready for legislature

Dec 23, 2019

Just a week before Christmas and the Kenai City Council Wednesday night approved its own wish list of projects for state funding.
    As has been practice for many years, $5 million for the Kenai bluff stabilization project was at the top of the list, but with so much uncertainty already in next year’s legislative budget process, the city’s list includes some lower-dollar items — just in case.

Kenai to use incentives to recruit new officers

Dec 20, 2019

 

Recruitment and retention is an issue for police departments at all levels, all across the country. The city of Kenai took a step to try and make its department more attractive to potential law enforcement officers with some financial incentives approved by the city council this week.

 


Old Town improvements discussed

Dec 10, 2019

Ideas for improving Old Town got some discussion amongst the Kenai City Council recently. Councilman Henry Knackstedt said he had recently been told that there are no signs along the Spur Highway advising motorists of Kenai’s historic district.

New restrooms, campground top list for dipnet grant funds

Nov 26, 2019
City of Kenai

 

The city of Kenai will likely have some improvements to greet visiting dipnetters next summer. At a special meeting Monday night, several ideas were presented that will use state grant dollars to fund upgrades both on the beach and closer to town.

 

 


 

New car rental lease at Kenai Airport approved

Oct 29, 2019

The Kenai City Council last week approved a new car rental lease for the remodeled Kenai Airport Terminal. E-A-N Holdings, which operates Enterprise, Alamo and National. The lease is non-exclusive, five-year deal worth either $44,639 per year, or 10 percent of gross receipts. It was approved unanimously.
    The council also took another step in updating its codebooks with a pretty large housekeeping resolution creating standard lease form for city land outside of the airport reserve.

Cannabis business hours lengthened in Kenai

Oct 4, 2019
KDLL

 

Nearly three years after the first retail cannabis store opened in Kenai, the city council is still working to tailor local rules to the local market.

 

 


As wildfire continues to scorch the landscape on the Kenai Peninsula, residents have come to worry about the resurgent spruce-bark beetle, a tiny pest that killed thousands of trees 20 years ago.

One of those residents is Patty See, who asked the City of Kenai what plans it has during the council meeting Wednesday.

ECON 919-Marketing the City of Kenai

Jul 22, 2019

 

Municipalities all over the country go at marketing themselves in different ways. Sometimes it’s in a specific direction, like tourism. Or their efforts are aimed at trying to court new businesses into town. In Kenai, those sorts of questions are just starting to get tossed around.

 

 


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