Kachemak Drive gas easements prove problematic

As contractors with Enstar Natural Gas ramp up construction this month on the second phase of the Homer natural gas expansion, some landowners on Kachemak Drive have balked at granting easements to extend the gas line.

More than 17,000 feet of natural gas line has already been installed on the Homer Spit, with contractors working at Fish Dock Road last week.

Of 31 easements Enstar needs to build the gas line, 20 landowners have signed easement agreements, 10 have not responded and one has refused to grant an easement, said Charlie Pierce, Enstar Southern Division operations manager, Kenai.

City Manager Walt Wrede raised the issue in his manager’s report at the March 24 Homer City Council meeting. Wrede said some of the non-responses may be from out-of-town landowners or summer residents who may not have seen letters from Enstar requesting easements. Pierce agreed that this may explain the lack of response.

“We’re hoping that as we get started, some of the work that we do will be witnessed by some of the hold-outs and they might become agreeable to sign an easement as well,” Pierce said.

Part of the issue is that unlike other areas where utility easements are established in rights-of-way, only the road itself on Kachemak Drive has an easement. All other utility easements have been negotiated with landowners. A recent utility project, the water-sewer project, required the city of Homer exercising eminent domain powers to get easements.

Pierce said Enstar will not go to court to get an easement, although the city of Homer could do that.

“Enstar is not interested in crossing somebody’s property who doesn’t want us being there,” Pierce said.

The easement hold-outs are in the middle of Kachemak Drive from Northern Enterprises Boat Yard to Lampert Lake. Pierce said if one landowner doesn’t grant an easement, contractors will build the line from either end with a gap in the middle. Pierce said Enstar prefers a loop in a gas line so that if there’s a break in the line, customers can get gas from another end of the system.

Enstar is seeking an easement on the Kachemak Bay or south side of the road.

The water-sewer line was installed on the north side of the road. Contractors use a small bucket-excavator to dig a 4-foot deep, 12-inch to 24-inch wide hole to install the lines. In some areas, such as wetlands, the line is bored.

“His mind may change as he sees what we’re doing and he sees that the impact is minimal,” Pierce said of the landowner refusing to grant an easement.

If enough landowners do not grant easement, potentially some customers wanting natural gas could be cut off, Pierce said.

“It’s neighbors preventing neighbors from getting gas,” he said.

That could be problematic, Wrede said.

“If these folks want gas, they are going to be pretty upset,” Wrede said.

Under the Natural Gas Homer Special Assessment District, landowners will pay about $3,300 a lot. That amount will change as the city completes its assessment roll. The city also did not appeal a ruling that condominiums could be assessed as single lots, a decision that cut 102 lots from the roll, which will add about $90 to the assessment fee.

What if a landowner does not grant an easement? Would the landowner be exempt from paying the assessment? On the one hand, if a line comes to the property owner’s lot, he or she is getting service. On the other hand, service doesn’t go by the lot and it could be argued that the property owner shouldn’t be assessed. Wrede said that’s a question being discussed by city officials.

“We will have to wait to see how this shakes out before decisions are made,” Wrede said.

Brush clearing will start this month and has to be done by May 15. From May 15 to July 15 is considered bird nesting season, and brush cannot be cleared then without a permit from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Pierce said.

People who have questions about the natural gas expansion, or who have questions about easements, can call the Homer office at 435-0635 or visit the office at 345 Sterling Highway, Suite 104.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.