City council discusses community development plans

The Homer City Council moved forward on the port expansion project

The Homer City Council moved forward on the port expansion project at their Monday meeting, approving funds for an Army Corps of Engineers study slated to begin this year.

The council adopted Ordinance 23-01 to renew the appropriation of $750,000 from the general fund balance for the general investigation study. The appropriation, originally approved in 2020, was set for renewal this year. The ordinance ensures the funds remain available for the investigation to get underway in 2023 as scheduled.

During public commentary, two audience members expressed reservations about the project’s effect on Homer’s infrastructure.

In response, Port and Harbor Advisory Commission Chair Crisi Matthews reminded the council that the port expansion project has been a top priority on the City’s capital improvement plan for many years, and that the appropriated funds are required by the Army Corps of Engineers to begin an initial study into whether the harbor can support the planned expansion.

Several council members reiterated that the study is the first concrete step toward determination and planning of the expansion, and there will be “lots of public process” in the future.

Other issues

The council discussed amending Ordinance 23-02, which appropriates up to $70,000, divided equally between the Homer Accelerated Roads and Trails (HART) Trails Fund and the Land Reserves, to purchase a 4.53-acre parcel in the Bridge Creek watershed protection district.

The amendment would strike all references to allocating $35,000 from HART funds, instead appropriating the full $70,000 from the Land Reserves. The council postponed the adoption of the ordinance to the next regular meeting on Feb. 13 and will schedule a second public hearing for the amended ordinance.

The council adopted Ordinance 23-03, allocating $24,000 from the U.S. Coast Guard Hickory Maintenance Reserves for fender repairs to the Hickory berth.

The council adopted Ordinance 23-04, allocating $38,775 from the Port Reserves for the purchase of two additional paid-parking kiosks on the Homer Spit, as well as implementation of a parking management software.

The council adopted Ordinance 22-72(S-2), which clarifies language in current Homer City Code to prohibit any physically unrestrained dogs in any City-owned or City-controlled campgrounds and parks.

The council heard a report from Ginny Espenshade, a member of the Board of Directors for the SPARC (South Peninsula Athletic and Recreation Center), updating the council on the facility’s new flooring project. The board is looking to install seamless commercial rubber flooring over a concrete slab, which is estimated to cost $480,000. The current floor, made from used materials, is no longer optimal for performance or safety, Espenshade said.

“It was always meant to be a temporary flooring solution to get us on our feet,” she said.

The board has been granted a Murdock grant for half of the estimated cost and is working to raise a local match. Espenshade reported to the council that the board has raised $30,000 toward their goal and has several options in the works for bringing in more funds.

Mayor Ken Castner invited economic development manager Julie Engebretsen to provide updates on economic and community development measures currently being discussed statewide. Engebretsen echoed concerns over existing challenges, including an aging workforce, lower wages, and increased career and education opportunities in the Lower 48.

“We’re not attracting more, younger workers,” Engebretsen said. “And that’s a problem, because it means we don’t have new workers to fill the new jobs that are being created.”

Engebretsen advocated encouraging high school students to stay in Alaska as adults or return to the state after acquiring training and education elsewhere. She also expressed the importance of providing support and a good quality of life for an available skilled workforce.

“These elements are crucial to attracting new business owners and employees,” Engebretsen said.

The council discussed scheduling an off-cycle work session regarding the HERC (Homer Education and Recreation Complex) project in mid-March. The next regular meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 13.