Disclaimer: the author resides in Service Area No. 1 and has driven Otmeloi Way daily for the past two decades.
On Oct. 4 Kodiak will hold a municipal election. One item to be voted on by the residents of Service Area No. 1 and those on Otmeloi Way is a question of whether to redesign and pave Otmeloi Way and to then have these same residents pick up the tab for the increased maintenance costs. Also, this measure, Borough Proposition 1 on Page 30 of the official election pamphlet, adds an adjoining 35-acre parcel of greenbelt to Service Area No. 1. Which has nothing directly to do with paving Otmeloi Way, but everything to do with being the first step towards converting this greenbelt parcel to housing tract development.
Let’s begin with a description of this project. According to a memorandum of agreement between the state of Alaska and the Kodiak Island Borough dated March 20, 2012, “Whereas the borough requests to be allowed to own and maintain Otmeloi Way and to assume all responsibility for the planning, design, and construction of the Otmeloi Way Rehabilitation Project …,” The rehabilitation project is described in the state’s 2012 Reconnaissance Engineering Report as including “realignment, grading, drainage, lighting, paving, and a separated pathway.” So, from this we know (1) a general description of the project and (2) that the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly is the party responsible for the planning, design and construction of the project (and not the state of Alaska).
The state’s 2012 engineering report lists three alternative design proposals for this project. The only alternative that provides a separate pathway is Alternative 3, which has a total estimated cost of $6 million (in 2012 dollars) or about $6.5 million when the project would start in 2018. Which is pretty steep to pave 0.787 miles of two-lane roadway. However, we as borough residents will not directly be impacted by this cost.
For financing this project is the responsibility of the borough, which to date has put together financing from the state and federal government to cover the cost of this project. However, if there is a cost overrun and funds from these two sources prove inadequate or not forthcoming, the borough is on the hook to make up the difference.
Additionally, a recurring theme in the 2012 report is that there has not really been any substantive public input to date. Since that time, the only public input that I know of is a recent Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities public meeting at North Star Elementary School, where state engineers from the Southcoast Region (Juneau) received individual comments from members of the public, following which, they left town. There was no public presentation to the audience gathered at this meeting, although there certainly were dozens of us who showed up. Compare this with the recent DOWL engineering meeting on Near Island Development with a public presentation and questions following, which is what a public meeting should be about.
And if this project does go ahead, the borough will not be paying for the increased cost of maintenance — the non-exempt parcel owners of Service Area No. 1 will. The borough election pamphlet estimates that the maintenance cost for Otmeloi will be $30,700 per year, based on the Service Area No. 1 average for the past five years.
Multiplying this by a factor or three or four (asphalt paving is more expensive to maintain over its lifetime), residents of Service Area No. 1 will pay around $1 million extra every 10 years. No wonder that a number of municipalities across the country are abandoning their rural paved roads and returning them to gravel, as they cannot afford the high upkeep costs for asphalt.
So, in the end, is it really worth paving Otmeloi Way and are we willing to pay for it?
All of which, of course, is just my opinion.