Story last updated at 4:28 p.m. Thursday, June 20, 2002

Assembly sends Anchor Point harbor to voters
By Hal Spence
Morris News Service-Alaska

Voters in the Anchor Point area will decide this fall whether to move forward on a $1 million feasibility study to determine if building a small boat harbor or boat-launch facility near the Anchor River is economically justifiable.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly adopted Ordinance 2002-21 on Tuesday creating the Anchor Point Port and Harbor Service Area provided voters approve an Oct. 1 ballot measure asking them whether to authorize an elected five-member board to facilitate the feasibility study. Voters would select board members during the same election.

Two sites for a harbor or boat launch are being considered: one just south of the mouth of the Anchor River, the other about 8 miles north of the river near Stariski Creek.

The feasibility study has been estimated to cost around $1 million, but that figure is likely conservative, according to the U.S. Corps of Engineers. The money is expected to come from federal, and possibly state agencies. Should the study indicate viability, preliminary estimates put the cost of a boat-launch facility in the neighborhood of $5 million, while a 99-vessel small boat harbor could run upwards of $15.5 million, according to a draft of a corps reconnaissance study of the proposed project. Tuesday's public hearing drew some support and a lot of opposition.

"Anchor Point is in desperate need of economic development," said Anchor Point resident Julie Engebretsen. The community depends heavily on tourism and a boat-launch facility would be a benefit, she said. Vi Jerrel said Anchor Point needed a safe port and harbor. She also noted the possibility of new jobs.

Several key issues arose during debate and public testimony, including one that concerned the scope of powers of the service area board.

Originally, the ordinance proposed board powers far beyond the feasibility study itself to include the power to build, operate and maintain facilities. Many of those testifying by teleconference from Homer, however, opposed granting any additional powers before the results of the feasibility study.

The Assembly agreed, amending the ordinance to strip away any reference to actual construction, operation and maintenance, leaving intact only the power to facilitate a feasibility study.

But opposition didn't stop at the scope of board powers. North Fork Road resident and 20-year Cook Inlet commercial fisherman Steve Fogg called the proposed locations poor because they are exposed to strong winds and extreme currents.

"I take a dim view of having to pay for something that I think is a really poor idea," Fogg said.

Patrick Houlihan, another North Fork resident, said he opposed the ordinance because of the cost of the feasibility study, but also over concern for possible impacts on the Anchor River. "The Anchor River is a premier salmon stream," he said. "To risk that through siltation or construction of a harbor is something we can't afford."

Most who testified said the proposed service area was too large and demanded taxes from property owners with no interest or need for a harbor or boat launch facility.

"It appears that few people will benefit and the rest will pay," said Maryjane Murphy in faxed testimony.

The ordinance included a provision to establish a 0.1-mill tax levy, which would raise about $12,871 a year from within the service area. That money is to be used to support administrative costs incurred by the service area board in its efforts to raise funds for the feasibility study. The board would seek grants for the study itself from the U.S. Corps of Engineers and other agencies.

But those opposed worried that taxes might be increased if fund-raising efforts for the study fell short, and later, to cover the high cost of operations and maintenance if a harbor or launch facility is built. "When you consider the possible spiraling costs, I think it's a boondoggle that I don't want to be part of paying for," Houlihan said. The Assembly struggled with the tax issue, too. A provision in the text of the ordinance attempts to cap the tax rate at 0.1 mill, which would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $10 a year.

That cap isn't cast in stone. In fact, it's a ceiling easily broken, said borough attorney Colette Thompson. The Assembly holds the power to set a service area tax rate wherever it deems necessary and can do that without a public vote, Thompson said.

Voters will be asked the following question: "Do you approve the exercise of powers necessary to provide for a port and harbor feasibility study within the Anchor Point Port and Harbor Service Area established by Kenai Peninsula Borough Ordinance 2002-21?" Actual creation of the service area and board are contingent on a majority of voters approving the feasibility study powers of the ballot proposition. If voters turn down the proposition, the service area would not exist. Tax collection would not begin until July 1, 2003.

Ken Turner, project manager for the U.S. Corps of Engineers, said this week that the Corps was leaning toward a launch facility rather than a harbor, but that a feasibility study would investigate both possibilities.

In other business, the Assembly approved an ordinance changing the boundaries of the Kachemak Emergency Service Area to reflect the recent annexation by the city of Homer.

<> Hal Spence is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion