Upgrade for Waddell Way moves along

At Monday’s Homer City Council meeting, the council discussed the basics of city government: roads and public safety. 

In one resolution asking the Alaska Legislature to reappropriate $606,000 of a $1.4 million grant to build Waddell Way, the council combined those two issues. It wants to use that money to keep moving forward on design of its proposed Public Safety Building while also getting Waddell Way built. On a 5-1 vote, with council member Bryan Zak objecting, the council passed that resolution.

The council also talked about two problem roads acquired through annexation, Fireweed Avenue and Cottonwood Lane, both off upper East Hill Road. With early breakup before the recent cold spell, those roads turned into muddy pits in some areas. Interim City Manager Marvin Yoder presented the city with three options — including a do-nothing option — on how to address the gravel roads. That issue will be considered at the council’s March 23 meeting.

Earlier, the council considered a resolution asking the Legislature to reappropriate the entire $1.4 million of the Waddell Way project to the Public Safety Building project. It passed a substitute resolution keeping about $800,000 in the road program. Using other city road funds, that would be enough to acquire right-of-way from Lake Street along the current rough stretch of Waddell Way to Heath Street and improve the road to urban road standards but delay paving.

Zak said he voted no out of misgivings regarding the Public Safety Building, estimated to cost about $30 million. He thought that in the current state fiscal situation there wouldn’t be legislative grant support for a building and that Homer voters wouldn’t approve a bond sale. 

Zak said it was wrong “to take money away from something we haven’t done, to put it in a building that’s not going forward.”

The $606,000 would pay for getting the design of the building to the 35 percent phase — the point at which architects can come up with construction plans. The project already is at the site-design phase showing the general size of the building and its location at the site of the Homer Educational and Recreational Complex, or HERC. 

A design would allow the public to see what it is, council member Francie Roberts said. “To put it on the back burner right now doesn’t make sense,” she said.

Mayor Beth Wythe, who also serves on the Public Safety Building Committee, noted that Homer could see growth if the liquid natural gas port and pipeline project proceeds.

“You have to take into consideration the entire picture,” she said. “You can wait or you can prepare.”

Council member Beau Burgess said with Waddell Way moving forward, he wasn’t opposed to the reappropriation.

“We can’t sit here on the council table and say, ‘No, I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do that,’” he said. “We can’t all be naysayers.”

Another road issue came up with the Fireweed Avenue and Cottonwood Lane situation. In a memo from Public Works Director Carey Meyer through Yoder, Meyer suggested two solutions to ongoing issues with those roads:

• Use city labor and equipment to fix the roads if homeowners would kick in for materials, or 

• Force a local improvement district on landowners, especially those absent landowners whose property fronts the worst sections.

At the Committee of the Whole meeting, Ty Handley, a Kasilof resident, came down to Homer to speak on the Cottonwood Lane issue. His sister-in-law, Leah Handley, has been taking care of a Kasilof pioneer and decorated Korean War combat veteran, Lyle Cole, at her home on Cottonwood Lane. Handley said the road had gotten so bad that a wheelchair accessible van couldn’t make it to Leah Handley’s home to pick up Cole.

“It’s reprehensible,” Handley said. “She (Leah Handley) had to take him out of his bed where he was dying.”

Cole, 84, died Monday morning at Handley’s home.

Handley found sympathetic ears in Burgess. Burgess said he had similar experiences when he lived on another road the city took over maintenance on after annexation.

“They led the citizens to believe they would absorb a certain responsibility,” Burgess said of the city. “I think we do have a basic obligation to maintain roadways we agreed to annex and serve.”

Burgess said the council might consider another option: “Not just to bring the road up to standards, but bring them up to the condition they were in,” he said.

The council agreed to put the issue on the agenda for the March 23 meeting and give landowners more time to be aware of the proposed solutions. 

The council holds a special meeting at 6 p.m. Monday for a second public hearing on the Homer Natural Gas Special Assessment District. Its next regular meeting is at 6 p.m. March 23 in the Cowles Council Chambers, Homer City Hall.