This past Thursday’s borough assembly meeting was the last regular meeting of the year, today’s joint meeting at 7:30 p.m. in assembly chambers with the city council being its last.
Thursday’s meeting was somewhat of a mixed bag — a good, orderly meeting, but with shortcomings due to its committee-like, decision-making structure. Dr. LeDoux commented on it, his scholarly observations being kindly framed, my framing being less charitable and more hard-nosed. Namely, assembly members could improve the quality of their decision-making on certain technical issues by recognizing the expertise of certain members on such issues and favoring the views of these members when it comes to their own voting. For example …
At Thursday’s meeting, the subject of tree planting in the Chiniak forest was an item of business. Here the borough staff is actively carrying out the stated mandate of the assembly, which is as it should be. However …
The planned density of trees to be planted at Chiniak is far more dense than the natural density of stands at Fort Abercrombie, Termination Point and nearby, but is consistent with the density recommended by an outside consulting firm. And if this too-dense assessment is correct, at a later date the Chiniak forest will require additional funds to thin the forest so that the trees will grow to the same height as the old-growth forest.
My frustration arises in that we have at least three borough assembly members who have the requisite background and knowledge to address this tree density question and collectively come up with a knowledgeable recommendation as to whether the borough should accept the consultant’s recommendation or substitute one of their own. But since all members may not possess technical competency in this area, by default the assembly accepts the consultant’s recommendation. (Incidentally, several years ago a similar process cost the borough $500,000 for a consultant’s worthless code revision. I would argue we should have learned something from this misadventure; but, apparently we haven’t.)
Continuing with the Chiniak reforesting, academic papers on reforesting following a fire point to the fact that the most important factor in a successful reforestation project is going to be the planting of hardwoods in riparian areas (next to the creeks and rivers), not the planting of the Sitka Spruce itself. Right now this detail is not being adequately addressed; and if not adequately programmed into the project, the viability of the whole reforestation effort will be compromised.
Again, some borough assembly members have the knowledge, skills and ability to appreciate the situation and consequently provide better direction to staff, yet this is not being done. That’s frustrating and seemingly argues for some improvement in the assembly’s process.
Another area of assembly discussion (actually non-discussion) is a continuation of the upcoming opt-out ordinance revision that would allow residents to not build to any building code outside of city boundaries (oversimplification). A key consideration that has not been discussed is whether such construction should, or should not, be required to meet fire codes (either NFPA’s or i-codes) under this option.
What is especially curious is that none of our local fire chiefs (one of whom is an expert in this area) has been asked to speak to the question as to the foreseeable consequences of allowing residential construction that does not meet any sort of fire or life-safety code. And why is this, he asks?
Could it be that a straightforward answer to this question would be so frightful as to effectively kill the whole opt-out resolution, thwarting the ideologues on the assembly in their agenda to promote neighborhood slum-dwelling structures as part of Kodiak’s “affordable housing” solution?
All of which, of course, is just my opinion.
Jeff Stewart is a retired project manager and former member of the KIBSD Board of Education.