Story last updated at 4:04 p.m. Thursday, October 24, 2002

Homer, borough populations grow, average age increases
by Hal Spence
Morris News Service-Alaska

Kenai ranked as the sixth largest incorporated municipality in Alaska in 2000, up from seventh in 1990, while Homer fell from 11th to 14th spot and Soldotna dropped from 13th to 15th, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures cited by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Community and Economic Development Division.

The division has just released its "2001 Situations & Prospects," an annual catalog of the borough's vital statistics. Included are assorted demographics, school enrollment figures, various data on sales, an overview of the peninsula's leading industries, employment numbers, as well as information on public health and safety as of the end of 2001.

It also includes census data as of 2000, comparing those numbers to censuses past.

Kenai's population jumped from 6,327 in 1990 to 6,942 a decade later, a boost of 615 people. Meanwhile, a few miles away, Soldotna grew at only about half of Kenai's rate, adding just 277.

Homer and Seward grew as well. Homer went from 3,660 to 3,946, while Seward jumped from 2,699 to 2,830.

The borough, meanwhile, grew by nearly 9,000 folks to 49,691 in 2000, and could now be as high as 50,556, according to Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development estimates.

Incidentally, peninsula residents are older now. The borough's median age is 36.3 years, and more than 70 percent of residents are 19 or older. In 1990, the median age was 31 years.

The exception to the getting older trend is Fox River, the borough's youngest Census Designated Place, where the median age is a youthful 14.8 years. Fox River is an area at the northeastern end of Kachemak Bay and includes communities such as Kachemak Selo and Voznesenka; it has a population of 616.

Hope, meanwhile, had a median age of nearly 47 years in 2000.

Business, in general, continued to improve in 2001, with gross sales rising 10.7 percent over 2000, a year that registered its own gain of 5.7 percent. Kenai led the way.

Construction permits in 2001 accounted for $45 million in assessed value, a 60 percent increase over 2000, according to the CEDD report. The $11 million Pioneer Dock in Homer was a major contributor to that increase.

Also up were housing starts, the CEDD said. There were 361 in 2000 and 388 in 2001. The homes were more expensive, generally, as the average value rose from $77,242 in 2000 to $93,729 a year later.

Commercial fishers saw the price of sockeye salmon continue to drop in 2001. The average price per pound was $1.39 in 1999, fell to 85 cents a pound in 2000 and fell again to 65 cents per pound in 2001, according to CEDD.

The average weight of the fish also declined from 6.8 pounds in 2000 to 5.6 pounds in 2001. The harvest, however, actually rose by 570,000 fish. Nevertheless, the ex-vessel value fell from $9 million in 2000 to $7.8 million in 2001.

Fewer visitors came to the borough in 2001 than in 2000. Part of that decline can be attributed "to canceled airplane flights and lack of confidence in security systems during and following the terrorist activities occurring last September," the report said.

Hal Spence is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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