With few items on the agenda for action, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting in Homer on Monday was still packed with action.
Once a year, the assembly holds one of its meetings in Seward and one in Homer. This year, assembly members got a tour of South Peninsula Hospital before meeting in front of a standing-room-only crowd in the Homer City Council Chambers at Homer City Hall.
The meeting started off with a little Homer flair when Fritz Creek area resident Barrett Fletcher gave the invocation. Fletcher started a congregation of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in early 2018 as a way to protest the assembly’s former policy regarding who was allowed to give invocations before meetings.
The policy, which has since been ruled unconstitutional and done away with, stipulated that only members of a religion with an “established presence” on the Kenai Peninsula could give the pre-meeting prayers, effectively excluding any worshippers who did not belong to a formal church.
Sporting a colander on his head, which is the religious headwear for Pastafarians, or followers of the church, Fletcher gave the invocation as the founding pastor of the First Lower Peninsula Congregation of Pastafarians.
“Just be seated, please,” he told the assembly before he began. “We’re not standing on formalities in our church.”
Fletcher called on the Flying Spaghetti Monster to guide the assembly members in their work ahead. He said everyone was gathered at the meeting for the purpose of government business — that the assembly was there to make rules, to fund services and to settle disputes.
“A few of the assembly members seem to feel that they can’t do this work without being overseen by a higher authority,” Fletcher said. “So I’m called to invoke the power of the true inebriated creator of the universe, drunken tolerator of all the lessor and more recent gods… May the great Flying Spaghetti Monster rouse himself from his stupor and let his noodley appendages ground each assembly member in their seats, reminding them of the purpose of their election to this body and helping them to stay focused on the tasks at hand.”
“And may he help them to easily acquit each of these tasks, avoiding any pettiness and irrelevant disagreement,” Fletcher continued. “And may he provide each of them satisfaction in the perception of accomplishment, and allow them true relaxation and an ample supply of their favorite beverage at the end of this evening’s work. R’amen.”
The invocation drew smiles and chuckles from several in the audience, and one meeting attendee also sported a colander on his head.
Former Lt. Governor of Alaska Loren Leman was honored at the assembly meeting with a proclamation. Leman grew up in Ninilchik and served as Lt. Governor from 2002-2006.
The assembly next heard from South Peninsula Hospital CEO Ryan Smith in the hospital’s quarterly update. Smith reported that SPH generated about $14 million in revenue last year. When asked about the cost of health care in relation to recent contract negotiations for Kenai Peninsula Borough School District employees, Smith also briefed the assembly on how the hospital is looking into being able to offer additional discounts to those employees, similar to what Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna already does.
Two representatives from Pebble Partnership also presented to the assembly, giving an update on the federal permitting process and where the proposed Pebble Mine Project currently stands. Vice President of Public Affairs Mike Heatwole and Vice President of Permitting James Fueg said the final Environmental Impact Statement in relation to the permits Pebble Partnership has applied for will be out in early 2020. Fueg said that, after the federal process, Pebble Partnership would likely pursue state permits as well.
Several members of the public came up to testify against the proposed Pebble Mine, so many that the assembly waved its regular rule for the allotted time for public comments during that portion of the meeting to allow for an extra 15 minutes. A few people in attendance boo’d and hissed as Heatwole and Fueg left the room.
“What accent is that?” one audience member called after Fueg. “Is that Australian?”
Borough business taken care of at the meeting included an appropriation of about $10,600 to fund additional part time and seasonal labor and the purchase of a new CT scanner for South Peninsula Hospital and appropriating $75,000 from the Seward Bear Creek Flood Service Area Fund to complete sediment management work in Kwechak Creek.