Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:57 PM on Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Natural gas inching closer

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

It's been a long time coming, but the availability of natural gas for Homer area residents is getting closer.


Photographer: McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

Pipe to bring natural gas from Anchor Point to Homer is being stored by Enstar Natural Gas near the Kachemak Nordic Ski Club's Lower Baycrest-D.O.T. trailhead.

So close that Enstar has stacked pipe in a fenced-in storage area near Kachemak Nordic Ski Club's Lower Baycrest-D.O.T. trailhead.

So close that Charlie Pierce, southern region manager for Enstar Natural Gas, is sharpening his focus on his own goal: delivering natural gas to former Homer Mayor Jim Hornaday's residence.

On several occasions, Horna-day has publically shared his uncertainty that natural gas would ever make it to the southern peninsula.

"I do remain skeptical from a history of about 40 years of hearing about natural gas to Homer," Hornaday said during his campaign for mayor in 2010.

Pierce is out to prove Hornaday wrong.

"The first meter I want to set is on Mayor Hornaday's house. I want to see him smile. That's my goal. To have him smile and look at me and say, 'Charlie, I'm sorry. I had the wrong opinion of you.' That's a personal goal of mine. I don't know if I'll achieve it, but I'm going to try," Pierce told the Homer News last week.

Before that meter or any others can be set, however, some steps have to be made. Namely, Homer city residents have to decide if they want natural gas enough to pay for it.

Cost to construct a 22.3-mile pipeline to deliver natural gas from the Anchor Point area, through Homer to Kachemak City is estimated to cost $10.6 million.

A state grant approved in 2012 by Gov. Sean Parnell provided $8.15 million. The remaining $2.5 million will come from a $1 per mcf (thousand cubic feet) tariff paid by southern peninsula users over an estimated 10-year period.


City residents are currently weighing in on formation of the Natural Gas Homer Special Assessment District proposed by the city.

"What the (Homer City) Council is talking about is doing the entire town," City Manager Walt Wrede said at a Dec. 20 meeting of Homer-Kachemak Bay Rotary Club. "That way everybody gets it, everybody gets it for the same price and we do it as a community."

Constructing the distribution lines throughout the city is estimated to cost $12,657,147. That includes $12,160,632 for Enstar to lay the distribution lines at $31.55 per linear foot; a $316,515 administrative fee; and $180,000 costs directly associated with project, such as seasonal inspectors, utility locates, project management and equipment. The proposed boundaries for the HSAD, Homer special assessment district, are Homer city limits, with the exception of about 10 percent of the lots within the city due to access or land use restrictions. The remaining 3,855 lots would be assessed an estimated $3,283.30 to be paid over 10 years with annual payments of $405.

"If we do nothing and if you want natural gas, you contact Enstar for your estimate and you pay them up front in full," said Wrede.

City residents have until Jan. 25 to submit to the city clerk's office written objections to formation of the HSAD. If 50 percent, or 1,928, of the 3,855 property owners within the HSAD objects, the council may not proceed with the project unless the plan is revised.

"There were 191 objections at the last tally," said Katie Koester, community and economic development coordinator for the city.

On Wednesday, Enstar will hold a public meeting from 6-7:30 p.m. at Homer High School to answer questions about the project.

"We're bringing a large map so people can see the exact routing," said Pierce. "It's essentially following the old highway to the new highway, then takes the new highway down the hill on the (uphill) side, on the edge of the state right-of-way, into town."

At West Hill Road, the route makes a jog to will follow the city's water-sewer right-of-way, continues along Fairview to the high school, jogs out the entrance to East End Road and continues to Kachemak City.

John Sims, Enstar's manager of corporate communications and customer service, will be on hand at the Wednesday to answer questions about natural gas supplies on the Kenai Peninsula, gas costs and contracts in relations to various producers, said Pierce.

The meeting also is an opportunity for the public to meet Chet Frost, Enstar's manager of the southern peninsula pipeline project.

"He'll be managing the schedule and making a determination when it commences," said Pierce.

Pierce also will give an update on the location of and personnel for Enstar's Homer office that he plans to have open by Feb. 1.

"We don't have the space firmed up yet," said Pierce. "We should be able to give good information at the (Wednesday) meeting, and we'll hold some additional meetings after that to let people get to know us."

To be addressed in those additional meetings are requirements for homeowners converting to natural gas.

"It's going to take some time to share that information. It's not something you can just talk about and walk away. There are code issues that, if you're doing your own conversion, are complicated at best. I'd like to save folks trouble, time and a waste of money in doing something that might not be acceptable," said Pierce. "But the (Jan. 9) meeting is a get-to-know-you meeting to talk about the trunk line, the application process, gas supply and cost components of gas. We have a lot of ground to cover in an hour and a half."

Enstar is preparing videos on meter installation to have available on the company's website soon. Information on the southern peninsula natural gas line project also is available at Enstar's Soldotna office, 36225 Kenai Spur Highway, about two miles toward Kenai from the "Y," and the public is invited to stop in.

"We're excited about coming to Homer," said Pierce. "I didn't think I'd see it in my career, coming down there and actually opening an office and setting up a shop, but I'm buying desks and office equipment and putting it all together."

As it turns out, even Hornaday is beginning to change his mind.

"We're closer than we've ever been," he told the Homer News on Monday regarding availability of natural gas on the southern peninsula. "I guess I've moved over to cautious optimism."

For more information about the Natural Gas Homer Special Assessment District, visit the city of Homer website, www.cityofhomer-ak.gov.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@hjomernews.com.

Top five Natural Gas Homer Special Assessment District questions

Following are the most frequently asked questions about the Natural Gas Homer Special Assessment District, according to Katie Koester, community and economic development coordinator for the city of Homer. These are other questions are asked and answered on the city's website, www.cityofhomer-ak.gov.

• Can I vacate a lot line to avoid having to pay multiple assessments?

If you vacate the lot line with the Borough and it is recorded before January 28th Public Hearing, your lot will only be counted as one for the purposes of the assessment. This is spelled out in Homer City Code 17.04.070(c) . The time frame to get the lot line vacated before January 28th is extremely tight. The process takes at least 60 days, and averages 90 days.

• How will the city assess condominiums?

Each unit will be assessed individually. Alaska Law defines condominiums as separate parcels of real estate (AS 34.08.720). Each parcel owner was sent an objection form and has the opportunity to object.

• Will my yard get torn up when the gas line is put in?

To install the distribution system, Enstar contractors will have to clear the right of way of vegetation to dig a trench. They must stay in the established right of way when installing the main extension. Traffic will also be reduced to one lane at times while trenches are being dug. Building the gas line will be disruptive to local traffic and an eyesore over the next two construction seasons.

• Will my property value increase with access to natural gas?

There is no consensus on what impact access to natural gas will have on property values, however the Borough Assessor will not automatically increase the value of your property just because it has access to natural gas. The process for determining property value will remain the same: using comparable homes sale property values in the area to base assessments on.

• How much will Enstar charge to get gas to my home?

Enstar's 2013 rates are $1290 for the first 100 feet of service line and $2 for every additional linear foot. You will only be charged for the service line that runs on your property. For example, if the main extension is on the opposite side of the road as your house, you will not be charged for boring the line under the road. You also have to purchase a meter. The cost of a meter varies depending on anticipated load, however the average cost is $200.