The Mat-Su Borough Assembly is back from its July break, and this week’s meeting included two issues in the Susitna Valley as well as the introduction of an ordinance that would change the way vehicle registration works in the borough. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more.
On Tuesday night, the Mat-Su Borough Assembly held its first regular meeting since June. After staff reports, the first topic on the agenda was a two-percent rate increase for the Talkeetna Sewer and Water System. That increase has been delayed multiple times, most recently in order to wait for the results of a $100,000 state-funded study. Those results were not final by the end of July as initially planned, so the rate increase was delayed once again. Speaking on the subject, Assembly Member Vern Halter indicated that the ultimate rate increases will be significantly higher.
“I think Mr. Dolan sent out an e-mail a few days ago. They’re going to ask for a thirteen percent increase for four or five years in a row, something like that, to go from red to black.”
Terry Dolan, who Assembly Member Halter mentioned, is Director of Public Works for the borough. On Wednesday, he clarified that a decision has not yet been reached on the sewer and water rates, and says that one of the sections of the study that came in later was a set of three alternative rate structures. He does say that the additional revenue would likely amount to a thirteen percent increase each year. The question now is how that revenue is raised.
By far the most contentious topic discussed by the Assembly on Tuesday was a change in regulations on Crystal Lake in Willow. Numerous area residents turned out in order to discuss the impacts of Jet-Skis and other personal watercraft on the small lake, which measures in at less than 150 acres. Some spoke out in favor of banning personal watercraft on the lake, including Joe Muralto.
“The use of personal watercraft has just become intolerable. My wife and I have stopped going to the lake on three day weekends, because it’s nothing but a non-stop buzz of two-cycle engines on the weekends.”
In addition to noise, Crystal Lake residents cited concerns over pollution, safety, erosion, and waterfowl habitat. Those residents took their case to the Mat-Su Planning Commission in order to seek a ban on personal watercraft. They say that, despite a two-thirds majority in an advisory vote, that the Planning Commission decided to continue to allow Jet-Skis, but create a 100 foot no-wake area around shorelines and to expand the “quiet hours,” when engines would have to be shut down.
Other residents of the area say that they don’t see personal watercraft as a major problem. One of those was Genie Schachle, who says that even the busy Fourth of July weekend did not result in a large number of motorized vehicles on the water.
“There were no more than four personal watercraft on the lake, plus two motorboats, a canoe, and a floating dock. There was also loons on the lake at the same time. In fact, at the same time the kids were playing in the lake…the loons were around their playing, and they didn’t have any problem.”
The Assembly eventually adopted a compromise put forth by Assembly Member Vern Halter. Under Halter’s amendments, the no-wake zone will be expanded to 200 feet from shore, and all two-cycle engines, which are viewed as causing more pollution than their four-cycle counterparts, will be banned on the lake beginning in 2016. Halter says that two-cycle engines are already banned on many Alaskan lakes and streams. The amendments were passed by a four-to-three vote.
Additionally, one measure introduced on Tuesday that could also draw significant discussion is an ordinance that would allow permanent registration of vehicles more than eight years old as opposed to the current biennial renewal. Proponents say that it will represent a significant convenience for borough residents. Others, including some borough staff, are concerned about the amount of money, possibly as much as $2.4 million, that the loss of revenue will cost the borough. That ordinance will have a public hearing at the next Assembly meeting on August 26th.