The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Wolfgang Kurtz
LOG Editor 

Land selection gains ground

 


The Kenai Peninsula Borough is mulling the selection of 28,000 acres of land which will complete the State of Alaska’s obligation to transfer lands under the Municipal Entitlement process. The Mandatory Borough Act of 1964 established the basis for the process and since 1966 over 127,000 acres of state land has been passed on to the borough.

On the Eastern Kenai Peninsula, which includes communities like Moose Pass and Seward, lands have been selected over the years, but the availability of property has been limited by the federal government’s considerable holdings. Delays in pending transfers of land from the federal government to the state served to kept much of the land along the Seward Highway off the menu until relatively recently.

These meager pickings have limited the inventory of Borough lands on the Eastern Peninsula creating high demand for living room in places like the Moose Pass area which are hemmed in by state and federal park lands. Conveyance of land in this area, particularly, is a high priority for Borough staff. Input from residents of local communities is helping craft an approach that will make further development of private and public facilities possible through land acquired by KPB and then managed by the borough or passed on to other entities. The Borough expects to better than double it’s holdings on the Eastern Kenai Peninsula through this final land selection.

The KPB Land Management Division has designated four regions within KPB boundaries. Region 3 includes the northeastern corner of the borough including communities like Cooper Landing, Moose Pass and Hope, and Region 4 designates the southeastern area including Seward, Bear Creek and Lowell Point. The transfers the borough is prioritizing are based on several process tools and inputs including the KPB Geographic Information System, field reconnaissance and human intelligence by way of public comments and surveys. Criteria for the parcels to be requested narrow them down to land that is ideal for local government and public use, community development and expansion and borough revenue and resource use.

While Borough staff has developed a prioritized list of parcels they are seeking from the state, the public participation process is aimed to help assist in further valuating their selections as well as identifying lands overlooked or underestimated. Furthermore, since the state will undoubtably deny or conditionally approve some selections made by the borough, public input can help provide argumentation to bolster claims. Also, rankings for fallback selections can be further developed through the public process.

As an incorporated municipality, the City of Seward exhausted it’s allowed selections under the Act in 1979. So the city’s interest in the current process is indirect and its only remaining contingency for expansion is annexation through the Local Boundary Commission. Unincorporated communities like Moose Pass and Cooper Landing have a formal process for providing input to the borough through their Advisory Planning Commissions (APC). In contrast, the vicinity of Seward beyond the city limits which includes the Bear Creek area does not have a focal point for influence on the borough process. It also lacks the delegated duties of an APC which would help the community determine standards for future subdivisions based on borough acquisitions.

As the designation suggests, APCs are advisory bodies but their influence over land management extends beyond the current selection process. In the absence of an APC for the area outside of the City of Seward, the Seward Bear Creek Flood Service Area (SBCFSA) Board along with the Bear Creek Fire Service Area substitute as organizing principles for the extensive rural community which comprises over 40 percent of the population of the overall Seward area. However, such an appearance of community organization may not translate to effective management of all of the area’s resources and issues.

At the SBCFSA meeting on Monday the topic was brought forward during public comments. When asked to state their position or opinion regarding the necessity and viability of a Bear Creek planning board the SBCFSA members opted to decline any specific comment on that subject. Board member Bob White commented that the last round of borough land selection added to potentially available lands in the Seward area, but that the borough had not made progress since in realizing the development potential of those parcels. Since 1987, White observed that residential and business development in flood plains has mushroomed in problematic subdivisions while preferable borough lands remained unused.

Borough land management staff commented in an aside, that having an APC along in concert with public initiative would facilitate borough action on developable land in the area. Indeed, APCs in Moose Pass and Cooper Landing are very active in plotting the shape of their future communities. In consideration of the question of why there seemed to be little awareness of the topic of land selection and planning in the Bear Creek area, KPB Assemblywoman Sue McClure theorized that there may be an issue with community identity at work outside Seward city limits. Other comments alluded to the contrarian and isolationist nature of some residents, but that distinction was deprecated as there is no provable monopoly of that resource in the area.

The KPB land management staff will continue to collect information while winnowing the field of parcels down to a select list of priorities which will then be considered by the KPB planning commission in March. The KPB Assembly is reckoning on considering the selections in April. Official submissions of land selections to the State of Alaska must occur during regularly scheduled meetings at which the public is entitled to participate and comment. The state then considers land selections and issues a preliminary decision inviting further public comment.

The KPB Land Management Division public input land survey will be available online until Feb. 28 at tinyurl.com/kpbentitled. The interactive maps at the website simplify providing comment on specific land parcels of local importance. These public research and comments will contribute to the selection of the remaining 28,000 acres of the KPB land entitlement. For information call 1-800-478-4441 ext. 2205.

 

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