Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 4:19 PM on Wednesday, June 13, 2012

City council wrestles with details of getting gas to Homer residents

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

What the city's role in delivering natural gas to Homer residents will be is still unclear.

The Homer City Council met Monday in its second work session to discuss the specifics of distributing gas from a state-financed pipeline from Anchor Point to Homer and Kachemak City. Enstar Natural Gas Co. will construct the line.

Before adjourning, council members directed City Manager Walt Wrede to draft a resolution to be presented at the council's July meeting that would include boundaries for a special assessment district within which the gas would be delivered.

After discussing finance options, how to guarantee the cost of what is anticipated to be a multi-year project and the formation of a special assessment district, it appeared the five council members in attendance — Beau Burgess, David Lewis, Francie Roberts, Beth Wythe and Bryan Zak, with council member Barbara Howard not present — were in agreement.

"My idea is that we go ahead and get a resolution going," said Mayor James Hornaday, asking council members to express their opinions.

Burgess said his direction to city staff would be "let's proceed with an ideal-as-can-be scenario for a (Homer Special Assessment District) for the entire city, building out in a phased way."

By city code, an HSAD can be initiated either by city council resolution with a vote of no less than three-fourths of the council or by a petition from property owners with signatures of not less than half in value of the property in the proposed district. The process includes neighborhood meetings, public hearings and submission of written objections.

Burgess also expressed a desire to get "an accurate guestimate" of the project cost beforehand, "with a relatively quick timeline and bring it forward for public comment."

Lewis and Roberts agreed with Burgess. The only addition Zak offered was to spread the project over three years, with a shorter timeline if support from the public and funding made it possible.

Wythe, however, had concerns.

"I'm in favor of residents making their own choice if they want to do the build-out of not," she said, urging caution if the council takes the lead. "I feel like we really need to have a super majority of this group if we go out and tell the community it's in their best interests for any service."

"Super majority" refers to agreement among three-fourths of the council.

Hornaday wondered if Wythe was suggesting the city not take steps to borrow money to finance the distribution lines, but let the public work directly with Enstar. Roberts envisioned it would take "forever for this build-out to take place" if left to individual groups of residents to take action.

Saying she didn't have a problem with helping residents find ways to finance the project, Wythe said she had heard from residents who own more than one lot and would be paying an HSAD assessment on each one and from others who objected to having natural gas forced on them.

"It's not us saying you have to hook up, but if they're paying an assessment, why would they also pay for someone to deliver fuel to their home? People are being forced to make that decision," said Wythe.

Burgess said Wythe raised "valid points," but argued the same reasoning could be applied when discussing "more socially broad services" like roads, fire or police.

"Is it fair to take any role at all to impose those costs?" said Burgess.

Before the close of the Monday's work session, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Bill Smith of Homer suggested the approach he used as chair of the city's planning commission during annexation of 4.58 square miles about 10 years ago.

"I drew up a map, divided it in eight different districts and invited each district separately to discuss it," said Smith. "You might divide the city up and have a series of meetings based on area and that might be more doable, more practical."

He also recommended the city narrow its options for the HSAD boundaries.

"Do the whole city, which is preferable, or a core area plus the loop of West Hill Road, up the top (of Skyline) and down East Hill Road so even if you didn't do the whole city at once, you would put natural gas within reach of other subdivisions."

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