Homer City Hall. (Homer News file photo)

Homer City Hall. (Homer News file photo)

City addresses ongoing burn piles

In its Monday night meeting, members of the Homer City Council and city staff addressed concerns surrounding the ongoing land clearing and burning in the Homer and Kachemak City areas.

Burn piles have been going for several weeks in the city, particularly a few miles down East End Road in the vicinity of The Bagel Shop and the Kachemak Gear Shed. Included in City Manager Rob Dumouchel’s regular report to the council was a section addressing citizen complaints about the smoke caused by the burn piles.

“In recent weeks there has been a significant amount of land clearing in Homer and Kachemak City which has caused unfavorable smoky conditions,” the report states.

Dumouchel reported that the Homer Volunteer Fire Department has reached out to those burn permit holders to remind them of best burning practices.

According to a memo from Fire Chief Mark Kirko, the city’s burn permit regulations are clear, but he is suggesting two additions to the code. Additionally, he explained that both the Kenai Peninsula Borough and State of Alaska have enforcement authority and their own regulations, similar to the city’s, when it comes to burn piles.

“The smoke conditions are noticed by most and may produce a health risk to some citizens with existing respiratory problems,” Kirko wrote in the memo.

He suggests adding these two statements to the city’s existing requirements for burn permits:

1) “No burning will occur when exterior conditions are below 34 degrees.”

2) “The fire department may require permitted fires to be extinguished if smoke conditions are determined to be a nuisance by a fire department official or multiple complaints are received from the public.”

Changes to the requirements for burn permits are within Kirko’s powers in the city code, according to Dumouchel’s report.

“I am actively working with the borough area fire departments and the Alaska Division of Forestry to improve the burn activities and educate the community on the open burning process and regulations,” Kirko wrote in the memo.

Additionally, Dumouchel’s report to the council contains an update on when the council might expect to resume holding in-person meetings again in the Cowles Council Chambers at City Hall. According to Dumouchel, the altered pieces of furniture are largely complete.

“… But we’re continuing to have some supply chain issues for a handful of electronic components,” he wrote.

A photo attached to the report shows an altered dais with clear shields between each seat for a council member. The new dais still needs to be wired for electricity and microphones for the council members.

The council passed two ordinances and a resolution at the Monday meeting. The first ordinance authorizes additional funding for replacement of security cameras at the Homer Public library and Homer Airport, in the amount of $19,700. This has been an ongoing project, with funds originally approved to update the technology in 2018 and 2019, according to a memo from Dumouchel.

In late 2020, the city went out to bid for the supply and installation of security cameras in both locations. The winning bid came in $16,100 over the $60,000 appropriation the city had already made. Additionally, the design of the replacement system requires additional perpetual software licenses, according to the ordinance, which cost $3,600. These two additional expenses add up to the $19,700 in additional funding for the project authorized by the ordinance passed on Monday.

The resolution the council also passed Monday night awards the contract for the security camera project to Sherman Technologies LLC, a Wasilla-based company.

The second ordinance passed at the council meeting appropriates $79,000 to pay water and sewer assessments for a lot of city land on Kachemak Drive that includes part of Lampert Lake. Kachemak Moose Habitat Inc. intends to purchase that property to moose habitat conservation, and the council passed a resolution in January expressing its intent to pay those assessments when the organization officially purchased the land.

The 21-acre parcel encompasses wetlands and a large portion of the lake, which locals use for ice skating in the winter. According to the ordinance passed on Monday, the council’s previous resolution identified sufficient public purpose in order to justify paying off the water and sewer assessment, and the city making that payment is contingent on Kachemak Moose Habitat Inc. actually purchasing the property.

One city resident, Larry Slone, voiced opposition to the council’s move to pay the water and sewer assessment. The city is surrounded by already accessible moose habitat, he said, and space for city residents should have priority within city limits.

Council member Joey Evensen said he was behind the ordinance, but raised what he saw as an discrepancy.

“I just wanted to point out how incongruent it is that we are spending this amount of money to help this portion of this ecosystem, while at the same time, on the other portion of the ecosystem, which is Beluga Lake, there are very loud, very noisy, very nuisance-related activities occurring at present.”

Evensen pointed to the vehicle activity that happens on the lake as an example.

“I think it’s very on point as a group to recognize that the action we’re taking tonight is about this ecosystem, and this ecosystem doesn’t end at the end of a lot line … it extends in this area, and the same ecosystem is kind of taking a beating right now,” Evensen.

He suggested revisiting the topic in terms of creating a larger city policy.

Council member Donna Aderhold said that the wetlands around Lampert Lake are relatively quiet and removed from the noise sometimes found on Beluga Lake.

“And we have to remember that these are the moose that, during the fall, are elsewhere throughout the lower peninsula that we are relying on for people to harvest,” she said in support of the land conservation effort. “So it is really important that we provide habitat for moose.”

Aderhold also pointed out that the wetlands hold a lot of water, and that issues could develop like overflow on nearby roads should that property ever be developed.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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