Council OKs funds for gas conversions for city buildings

Like a lot of other building owners, the city of Homer has been looking at the natural gas line expansion with an eye on utility costs. How much would it cost to convert city buildings to natural gas? How much would the city save? And is it worth it?

At its regular meeting on Monday, the Homer City Council answered those questions. In an amended ordinance, it authorized spending about $225,000 to convert to natural gas many city buildings, including City Hall, the Homer Public Library, the Sewer Treatment Plant and office, the Animal Shelter, and the Homer Airport. Some of those conversions, such as the airport, would pay for themselves in less than a year. Of the projects approved, all would be paid off in less than five years.

“If you look at the table, there are good payoffs for most of the facilities,” said Public Works Director Carey Meyer, referring to a chart accompanying the ordinance.

On an amendment proposed by council member Francie Roberts, the council made a decision some building owners also have made: that the cost of conversion for some projects has too long a pay-out period and might not be worth it. Roberts deleted and the council approved not converting to natural gas the Homer Police Department and the Homer Volunteer Fire Department buildings. 

The police station would cost $42,000 to convert, with a pay-out period of 14.2 years. Meyer said the high cost is because the station would use a dual gas-fuel oil boiler so that if there was a disruption in gas service, the public safety building — considered a vital emergency facility — would still have heat.

Meyer said the city also is questioning figures showing the police station uses relatively little fuel, about $4,000 in heating oil a year. It has two furnaces, one upstairs and one downstairs, and the number seemed low, Meyer said.

The issue with the fire hall is that it is now heated with electricity. To convert to natural gas would require a new boiler and heating system.

The ordinance also did not fund conversion of the Harbormaster’s Building because it’s due to be replaced in the near future. Another high energy user, the harbor Ice House, uses electricity to run freezer compressors, and thus would not benefit from a natural gas conversion.

Meyer said the city will need to design the gas conversions. With the expenditure, it can go ahead with bringing in service lines and meters to buildings this summer and do the conversion over the winter.

With council member Beau Burgess absent, the council approved the ordinance unanimously. Mayor Beth Wythe said she had not received notice from Burgess explaining his absence and ruled that he had an unexcused absence. Burgess said by phone he had emailed city clerk Jo Johnson that he planned to be absent because of travel to the Lower 48, but Johnson apparently did not act on his email because she is on vacation.

A resolution to subdivide Lot 2, Tract A, the Pier One Theatre lot on the Spit, into lots for recreational and marine industrial use died for lack of a motion. Currently zoned marine industrial, the proposal was to better define uses on the lot. In discussions at the committee of the whole meeting, the council backed off from that idea. It also voted down another resolution authorizing issuing a request for proposals for a 10,000-square-foot section of that lot for lease. The Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Society has expressed interest in leasing a small lot. The sense of council members was to back off and issue a request for proposals for leasing all or part of Lot 2, Tract A, including potentially a continuation of the Pier One Theatre lease, to gauge nonprofit and commercial interest in the lot.

In other action, the council approved:

• The reappointment of city economic development director Katie Koester to the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District;

• Recommended reappointment of Rick Foster to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission;

• Reappointed Franco Venuti to the Homer Advisory Planning Commission;

• Approved a $36,000 special services contract with the Alaska Department of Public Safety for use by Alaska State Troopers of the police station and for transporting state prisoners to and from arraignments and jail;

• Approved a Port and Harbor Building Task Force;

• Granted a contract to Homer Senior Citizens Inc. to provide meals to the Homer Jail;

• Awarded a $598,000 contract to Arno Construction for road improvements to Crittenden Drive and Waddell Street, and

• Awarded a $171,000 contract to Puffin Electric for rebuilding the Homer Spit Boardwalk on the west side of the harbor.

Burgess said he was a subcontractor with Puffin Electric on the boardwalk project, but had declared a council member conflict of interest with the city. If he had attended Monday’s meeting, Wythe would have had to decide if he should be excused from the vote on the contract.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at