Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 3:26 PM on Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Gas: One more step closer to Homer



BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG
STAFF WRITER

"Take the bull by the horns," Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center Executive Director Monte Davis told the Homer City Council in urging it to pass a resolution initiating a Homer Area Special Assessment District for a city-wide natural gas distribution system.

In a 5-0 vote, the Homer City Council on Monday did just that, approving Resolution 12-069 and starting the process to finance and construct a build-out of the Anchor Point-Homer natural gas line that, if ultimately approved, could bring natural gas to the city from Skyline Drive to the end of the Homer Spit.

"Once you have the equipment available and the know-how, this is the time to get the whole city connected to natural gas," said Cheryl Rykaczewski.

Mayor James Hornaday had ruled in June that council member Beth Wythe has a conflict of interest because she works for Homer Electric Association, which could lose money if customers convert from electric heat to natural gas. Wythe was excused from the vote.

The council needed three-fourths of six votes, or five votes, to approve the resolution under the assessment district code.

The council also passed by a 5-0 vote an ordinance accepting an $8.1 million state grant for construction of the natural gas pipeline from Anchor Point to Homer and Kachemak City.

It's still a long way for final council approval of the assessment district, but the council's decision simplifies the process. Monday's resolution by-steps the citizen-initiated method, where property owners by petition can form assessment districts. City officials will begin to design, map and figure out the cost per lot to build the gas network.

"Really, the next step is to come up with a plan now that we have a direction from the council," said Katie Koester, the city's community and economic development coordinator.

Once the improvement plan and assessment roll is created, the city will hold either neighborhood meetings or one large city meeting, Koester said. City Manager Walt Wrede has assigned her the task of coordinating city meetings, she said.

Affected property owners will have a chance to after receiving notice from the city. If more than 50 percent of the properties object in writing, the plan dies and the council would have to revise the improvement plan

An estimated 4,000 lots would be affected. Each lot would be assessed the same amount, whether a 10-acre commercial lot or a quarter-acre house lot. Each condominium in a development, such as the units at Land's End Lodgings or the Landings Condominiums, counts as a lot. A leased lot, such as at the Homer Airport, also counts as a lot.

One estimate for a city-wide build out is $12 million, or $3,000 a lot. Each lot gets a "vote" to object. For example, if one person owned 10 lots, that person could object 10 times. A lot owner who does not submit a written objection is assumed to favor the assessment district.

At the Committee of the Whole meeting, city attorney Tom Klinkner briefed the city on some of the issues of the assessment district process. If lots could not benefit from the improvement, the lots could be exempt from the assessment roll, he said. For example, lots with conservation easements or lots that do not have legal access to the distribution line would not be included. Lots on roads not up to city standards would still be part of the assessment district. Undeveloped lots also would be in the district, Klinkner said.

Although property owned by nonprofit organizations such as churches and social welfare groups get property-tax exemptions, that doesn't apply to the assessment district, he also noted.

With the city accepting the $8.1 million state grant, planning and construction can proceed on the line that brings gas to the city, what Enstar Natural Gas Company calls the Homer Trunk Line. In the grant contract, Enstar describes the line as an 8-inch diameter plastic main that runs 17.2 miles from Chapman Elementary School in Anchor Point along the Old Sterling Highway to the Sterling Highway then into Homer past Homer High School on Fairview Avenue to East End Road. A 6-inch diameter line then extends 1.6 miles along East End road to Kachemak City. The line would be built by Enstar or subcontractors, with this construction plan:

• July-October: permitting and contract development, surveying and environmental activity; agency permit processing

• January 2013: Bids due for installation, construction, boring and clearing;

• February 2013: Permits issued, materials ordered, contracts awarded, construction starts;

• March-May 2013: Bore line under roads, rivers and wetlands, clear right-of-ways;

• April-October 2013: Collect service line and meter costs from customers;

• May-November 2013: Build trunk line, main line and service lines and begin service.

Koester said it could take about four months for the city gas line improvement plan to be developed, community meetings held and notices to go out.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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