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

By Wolfgang Kurtz
LOG Editor 

Boro Assembly meets in Seward


Wolfgang Kurtz | The Seward Phoenix LOG

Bear Creek Fire Department Chief Mark Beals testifies against the proposed liberalized fireworks code in the borough.

Once a year the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meets in Seward. For those unfamiliar with the proceedings there is an opening ritual including a prayer. While the sun shone brightly outside, Pastor Ron Nitz of Resurrection Lutheran Church gave the invocation which included a moment of silence for those affected by the Boston Marathon bombing.

Seward City Council Member Bob Valdatta was first on the floor during public comments and questioned State of Alaska and KPB priorities in maintaining and upgrading the Seward Highway. He illustrated his frustration by alluding to present plans to widen a section of the route north of Moose Pass while long-term priorities for upgrading the highway along Kenai Lake are languishing. According to Valdatta, he drives the road almost daily and recently observed surveyors working in advance of widening pavement that is basically sound while the lakeside portion is narrow and disintegrating,

Former Seward City Council Member Tim McDonald took the opportunity to introduce the assembly to a new initiative to establish a baseline trail along the head of Resurrection Bay, connecting the Iditarod Trail at Nash Road to the small boat harbor. With some easements in place he indicated that his preference would be for the route to benefit walkers, bikers and provide wheelchair access. Noting some pending rezoning and permitting through Alaska Railroad Corporation property, McDonald indicated that this would be the ideal time to establish an easement or corridor through that industrial area.

Historically there was an access road to the area from the west that paralleled the existing airport runway which served to displace that access. Today there is no formal public access through the area on the west side of the Resurrection River. McDonald emphasized his contention that the proposed trail could be considered tourism infrastructure and a legitimate use of State of Alaska tax receipts from cruise and tour vessel passengers commonly known as the Cruise Ship Tax. He proposed that a portion of the $343,265 appropriation to Seward before the assembly be earmarked by the borough for development of the trail.

In answer to a query from assembly member Mako Haggerty, McDonald suggested that the Seward Iditarod Trail Blazers and the newly formed City of Seward Recreation Committee could take the lead in administering the funds in service to the development of the trail. He alluded to the rapid development overtaking the shores of Resurrection Bay and stated that some resources should be set aside for quality of life benefits to both residents and visitors.

In further comments, KPB Mayor Navarre was critical of the prospect of specifying uses for Cruise Ship Tax monies, asserting that the borough would be liable for statutory compliance with the legal dictates governing use of tax appropriations. Distributions of Cruise Ship Taxes are required to be employed for direct services to passengers. He stated that Seward City Council would be better suited to determining the highest and best use of the monies and the borough would not want to put in the position of attesting to their appropriate use.

City of Seward council members Marianna Keil and Bob Valdatta spoke in favor of the assembly resolution allotting Seward the Cruise Ship Taxes. Councilor Keil also remarked that the assembly president Linda Murphy was a welcome return visitor to Seward as Murphy had served as Seward City Clerk for many years. Councilor Valdatta, in response to McDonald’s request that the borough assembly earmark Cruise Ships Taxes for the trail initiative, made comments critical of the feasibility of the trail and in opposition to use of the appropriation for that purpose.

The centerpiece of the evening’s Seward assembly session was the public testimony and discussion among assembly members regarding Ordinance 2013-11, “Making Exceptions to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Prohibition on Fireworks.” One local resident and area fire department officials took the podium to testify against the proposal.

A resident from the Nash Road area argued against the exception on behalf of pets, who can be traumatized by the loud explosions involved with fireworks use. She mentioned that, even with the infrequent illicit use of fireworks under the current ban, animals of her acquaintance experience enough distress.

Bear Creek Fire Department’s Chief Mark Beals made an impassioned appeal against the enactment of the ordinance, citing a traumatic fireworks accident involving local children that resulted in one death and permanent injuries for two others. The 1985 tragedy helped form the backdrop for the final passage of the borough ban of fireworks that year. The ban had been proposed in various forms for at least the previous past two years, but a public referendum and language changes resulted in its enactment. Earlier that year, the Seward City Council banned use of fireworks inside of Seward city limits.

KPB Assembly members were almost uniformly opposed to granting the exception, although they did praise assembly member Brent Johnson for bringing the debate to a head in a considered manner against the backdrop of personal liberty. The libertarian angle was also championed by assembly member and ordinance co-sponsor Kelly Wolf. Lack of enforcement seemed to be sticking point for Johnson, who posed the question of how to resolve the quandary between responsible use of fireworks and the risks of use especially during fire prone seasons.

In closing comments, Seward Fire Department Chief Squires assured those present that Kenai Peninsula fire departments would be actively pursuing putting some teeth into the enforcement of the existing ban on fireworks.

In total, four ordinances for public hearing came before the assembly and those in the audience. Ordinance 2012-19-45 accepted a grant for $33,019 from U.S. Homeland Security for training for the Bear Creek Fire Service Area and was approved by unanimous consent. Ordinance 2012-19-48, appropriating $343,265 for the City of Seward from the borough’s share of the State Commercial Passenger Vessel Tax was also approved by unanimous consent. Ordinance 2013-11, proposing allowing firework use throughout the borough outside of city boundaries during December and January was defeated unanimously, albeit with a little hesitation on the part of assembly member Kelly Wolf.

Wolfgang Kurtz | The Seward Phoenix LOG

Assemblyman Brent Johnson says that loosening fireworks laws in the borough makes sense in the absence of effective enforcement.

A number of resolutions were passed on the consent agenda. One, Resolution 2013-037, establishing a fiscal note policy, was pulled off the consent agenda by request of assembly member Haggerty and was postponed until the next assembly meeting. Resolution 2013-038 approved updates to the KPB Assembly manual and added in provisions for assembly use of mobile devices in the course of borough business. KPB assembly members will be assigned tablet computers and paper agenda packets will not be distributed after the next meeting.

Several ordinance were set for subsequent public hearing on May 21. Among those is Ordinance 2012-19-52 authorizing expansion of Central Peninsula Hospital’s imaging department. The assembly also reset Ordinance 2013-14, which amends code to reduce the rate of interest that is charged sellers for delinquent sales taxes and also reduces the late penalty.

The next KPB Assembly meeting is in Soldotna at 6 p.m. May 7. The borough’s website is Sue McClure, the assembly member for the East Peninsula including Seward, can be reached at 224-6784 or


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