Emergency services, roads top borough capital priority list

The 72-page plan outlines more than 30 projects

The Kenai Peninsula Borough will seek funding for improvements to emergency communication upgrades, fire and emergency medical services, and roads during the upcoming session of the Alaska Legislature following approval Nov. 7 of the borough’s capital project wishlist by borough assembly members.

The 72-page plan outlines more than 30 projects identified by either the Kenai Peninsula Borough or by its service areas and unincorporated communities as being priorities. The borough in September announced that it would be holding public meetings in 11 communities to gauge their needs.

The borough’s list of capital funding requests come about three months earlier than the last list, which Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche and assembly members said last week is to better align with the state budget process in Juneau.

“We’ve been working for the last couple of months to try to get our schedule more aligned with our legislative and capital project priorities for the state, so that we can make the governor’s budget in a more efficient manner and so we’ll have greater odds of getting all of our or at least some of our requests met,” assembly member Bill Elam said during the meeting.

Micciche told assembly members during a Nov. 7 meeting of the assembly’s Legislative Committee that getting an itemized list of the borough’s capital priorities out before the regular session starts will allow the requests to be “seriously considered” for the governor’s budget.

“The bottom line is this is the schedule we need to be on,” Micciche said.

Micciche and Assembly President Brent Johnson wrote in a letter to lawmakers accompanying the list that roads and bridges “continue to be of paramount concern and are a recurring theme throughout our requests for state funding.”

The borough’s top capital priority, per the plan, is $4.35 million worth of improvements to emergency communication services along the Sterling and Seward highways. Through that project, telecommunications infrastructure would be built in six areas of the borough, with the goal of improving communication to first responders and borough support operations.

Along those routes, the plan says, the Kenai Peninsula Borough provides emergency services not only to borough residents, but also to visitors from out of state and other parts of Alaska. The borough estimates that the section of the Seward Highway between Hope and Turnagain Arm sees “tens of thousands of travelers” monthly, but lacks cellphone service and radio communication.

The project would include a $2.5 million communications platform along the Seward Highway between the Hope Highway turnoff and Turnagain Arm, as well as rooftop communication structures at Kenai Central High School and Central Peninsula Hospital and towers on Poppy Lane, in Nikiski and in Homer.

“The lack of connectivity along a heavily utilized highway corridor poses a real risk to public safety, where an accident may turn from serious to life threatening simply due to the lack of communications infrastructure,” the plan says.

The next project on the list is $16.14 million worth of support to and capital purchases for the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s six fire and medical service areas. Those groups, the plan says, support about 41,000 borough residents, in addition to tens of thousand other people visiting the Kenai Peninsula.

Demand for services from those agencies, the plan says, ebbs and flows — so, too, does the tax burden on the residents who fund service area operations. Volunteer emergency service groups rely largely on private donations, meaning their resources are often limited.

“Due to seasonal tourism associated with the dipnet fishery, cruise ship tourists and various others state-created demands, the demand on these service areas increase at peak times often quadrupling the local EMS service demand,” the plan says. “As a result, the property owners of the Kenai Peninsula Borough are left with carrying the burden of those services and providing capital support in the form of facilities and equipment.”

The state funds, if received, would be prioritized and distributed by the borough based on need and priority.

Other capital priorities the borough outlines in the plan, but does not rank, are $10.9 million for the construction of a community center in the community of Kachemak Selo, $4 million for the replacement of the borough maintenance shop, $1.8 million for improvements to borough transfer sites and roughly $2 million for road improvements at a proposed boat take-out on the Kasilof River, among others.

Requests for funds from the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s six emergency service areas are also part of the plan and range from replacement of an ambulance for Western Emergency Services to asphalt surfacing for the Bear Creek Fire Service Area. More than 30 pages of the plan are devoted to funding requests from the borough’s unincorporated communities.

The next regular session of the Alaska Legislature kicks off on Jan. 16.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.