Borough OKs USAD to extend Funny River gas line

More residents of Soldotna’s Funny River area will soon have access to natural gas in their homes.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly approved a resolution at its June 21 meeting forming the Funny River East Utility Special Assessment District, which will allow for the extension of an existing natural gas pipeline in the area to reach 309 more parcels from Angler’s Roost Street and Treeline Avenue northeast to Moonshine Drive and Zackery Street.

Two residents applied for the formation of the Utility Special Assessment District in July 2014. The total estimated cost for the pipeline is approximately $1.4 million. The cost is split between all the parcels, coming in at $3,369.58 per parcel, according to the borough assessing department’s information. The cost of service lines, however, is not included in the assessment, and individual property owners will have to pay for the service lines if they want to access the gas, according to a July 2015 memo from Enstar Natural Gas Company to the assembly.

Property owners don’t have to pay the total amount right away — they also can pay principal and interest payments annually for a 10-year period, according to a memo from the borough finance department.

Supporters for the special assessment district said it will reduce the cost of heating their homes and raise their property values. Marilyn Pitts, who was one of the two original petitioners, said some people who are on restricted incomes would benefit from the reduced cost of heating. She said a neighbor came to her after the petition came together and thanked her for working on getting natural gas there.

“What she said to me was, ‘If the gas line had not come through, I don’t know how much longer I could have lived in my house,’” Pitts said at the assembly meeting. “It touched me profoundly, and I hope it touches (the assembly).”

However, some spoke against it in writing and in person, saying they do not want the gas service and should not have to pay for it because their neighbors do. Joseph Laba, who said he built his home there about four years ago, said he has no intention of using the gas line and should not be forced to pay for it, especially when the estimated cost may not be the final cost.

“I shouldn’t have to incur these costs if I choose not to have natural gas, and I choose not to have it,” Laba said.

Others, such as John King, who lives on Funny River Road, objected that the seasonal residents of the area will not use the natural gas to heat their homes and should not have to pay for it.

“I understand why property owners who stay here year-round would like the option for natural gas, but that cost should not be forced onto people who do not wish to incur the cost to switch,” King wrote in a letter to the assembly.

Both King and Laba voiced objections to the way the map was drawn, saying that some properties were purposefully excluded to obtain the number of “yes” votes necessary to pass the gas line. The petitioners needed to obtain at least 60 percent of the property owners’ approval before moving forward to the assembly.

Assembly member Gary Knopp said he was also confused about the exclusion of some properties. He said the way the gas line stopped before including some properties didn’t make sense, and although the application followed the requirements to be approved, he said he though the code regulating the Utility Special Assessment Districts “needs work.”

Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said the petitioners brought the plan in for the borough to review. He said earlier grants from the state, which pitched in for the project to build a gas line crossing the Kenai River, reduce the cost of future expansion projects in the area. He said he did not think there was an effort to try to manipulate the lots to gain votes.

“As to where they decided to stop, that’s not the borough’s decision,” Navarre said. “We could possibly bounce it back and say, ‘You should pick up extra lots,’ but that I guess incurs additional cost for construction and that thought process was theirs for figuring out the improvement.”

The assembly approved the Utility Special Assessment District and the associated appropriation to the Special Assessment Fund for the project. Because the project was approved before July 15, Enstar will construct the project this year, according to the memo from Enstar.

Elizabeth Earl is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. She can be reached at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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