Council opposes Navy’s exercises

The Homer City Council set an apparent record at its regular Monday night meeting with what may be the largest council packet ever, a two-volume, 1,600-page tome that included 700 pages on beach policy recommendations. 

Technically, the June 29 meeting was a special meeting since most council members said earlier they couldn’t make the meeting last week. Council member Beau Burgess was absent.

Despite the hefty packet, the meeting only went two-and-a-half hours. In a work session held earlier, the council also listened to a presentation by members of the Homer Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission on its recommendations regarding beach use. A key finding: Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat regulations prohibit motorized vehicle use below the 17.4-foot mean high tide line at Bishop’s Beach. Because that also is the private property line, in effect it’s illegal to drive on the beach without permission from landowners.

The council unanimously passed a resolution urging the U.S. Navy to change its training exercises in the Gulf of Alaska. The council also ended the years-long Ken Castner v. Homer condominium contretemps when it passed a resolution changing how it would assess condominiums in the Natural Gas Homer Special Assessment District. 

That resolution says each condo unit will be assessed as a percentage of a per-lot amount of $3,262.77 equal to the condo’s percentage of undivided interest in the common elements of the condominium. That’s the way Castner said condos should be assessed according to condo law.

The resolution authorizes the council to prepare a new, corrected assessment roll taking into account the change. 

It also passed an ordinance appropriating $277,335.45 from city reserve funds to pay for the loss of 85 assessments. When it passed the final roll for the natural gas assessment in March, the council could have changed the roll to account for the Castner decision, but continued to fight — and ultimately lose — a Kenai Superior Court ruling in favor of Castner.

Last month, the Navy and other military units started Northern Edge, a joint training exercise involving aircraft and ships in the Gulf of Alaska. The council urged the Navy to moves its operation zone 200 miles offshore and schedule training not during the summer months when marine mammal migrate through the area and in the middle of commercial fishing season.

Shelley Gill was one of about a dozen who spoke in favor of the resolution. She asked the council members to close their eyes and imagine living in a world where sound dominates the senses.

“A loud rocket is a shock to (their) home,” she said. “This is the real life of marine mammals destroyed by the U.S. Navy’s world-wide acoustical war.”

Council member David Lewis, who had said at the last meeting he might vote against it, changed his vote when the council agreed to his suggestion that Alaska’s congressional delegation work with the Navy to make the changes.

The council postponed action on another major appropriation of $621,500 from the general fund balance to complete a 35-percent design for the new Public Safety Building. Lewis asked for postponement until the July 27 meeting when there would be a full council.

Lewis had tried to get the council to pass an ordinance repealing the seasonal sales tax exemption as it applies to nonprepared foods such as cakes, cookies, ice cream, candy, chips and frozen pizza. The council accepted Lewis’ amendment deleting ready-to-eat frozen foods from the list of foods that would be taxed.

Lewis said he put forth the tax change to address contradictions in the sales tax exemption for food. From Sept. 1 to May 1, nonprepared foods are exempt from Homer’s 4.5-percent sales tax and the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s 3-percent sales tax. 

Lewis said doughnuts from the bakery can be taxed as prepared foods, but not packaged doughnuts. Chicken from the deli can be taxed, but a day later if it’s packaged, it can’t be taxed.

“There are certain items I feel we should be taxing,” he said. “That’s why I brought it up.”

Catriona Reynolds agreed with Lewis’ logic.

“I really like the idea of non-nutritive products being taxed,” she said.

Lewis and Reynolds were the only yes votes, and it failed 2-3, with council members Francie Roberts, Bryan Zak and David Lewis voting no. However, at the end of the meeting Roberts asked for reconsideration, and the issue goes back on the agenda at the next meeting.

The council also passed a new resolution sending back to landowners a petition creating a paving and sewer special assessment district in the Lillian Walli subdivision at the bottom of West Hill Road. At the last meeting, Roberts pointed out that the petition language said that landowners could get Homer Accelerated Roads and Transportation, or HART, and Homer Accelerated Water and Sewer Program funds. The city said that under the subdivision agreement the subdivision owner — now individual owners — was responsible 100 percent for improvements. The amended resolution says that a corrected petition will go back to the landowners for their reconsideration.

At the work session, members of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission talked about its year-long effort to address the city’s beach policy and consider changes to how Bishop’s Beach, the Homer Spit and other beaches are used. The 710-page “volume one” of the packet summarized that work, including public testimony, meeting minutes and other documents. 

That packet included a letter from Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten confirming that Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat regulations prohibit motorized vehicle use below the mean high tide of 17.4 feet at Bishop’s Beach from Beluga Slough to Bidarki Creek. Since private property is above the mean high tide, that effectively means motorized use is banned at Bishop’s Beach. Most drivers access the beach from the city’s parking lot on Beluga Place.

“By allowing driving on the beach and to either of those two courses, we are allowing something illegal,” said Deb Lowney, one of the commission members who spoke.

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission recommended that driving be banned year-round at Bishop’s Beach and in the summer at Mariner Park and on the Spit to Freight Dock Road. The commission also had recommendations about where dogs could be allowed. Those recommendations will come to the council as either resolutions or ordinances at the July 27 or a future meeting.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at