Thanks to a judge’s ruling, the City of Homer no longer has to worry about plowing an ice skating area on Beluga Lake. A Homer man who donated parkland to the city 30 years ago thought the city had an obligation to create an ice skating area – and felt so strongly about it that he sued.
The lawsuit was brought last year by Homer resident Tony Neal, who donated a chunk of land to the City of Homer back in 1983 that would eventually become Ben Walters Park.
Neal was unavailable for comment for this story but in the court complaint, his attorneys allege that the city failed to live up to its end of the bargain. They specifically point to a document – signed by both parties when the land was donated to the city – that spells out Neal’s desire for the area to be used for ice skating in the winter.
It says the city promises to keep the park open during the winter and “maintain the park as necessary to allow access to the lake for an ice skating area.” Another part of the document explains how the city will be responsible for snow-plowing the skating area – but that section of the document is handwritten in the margins.
The document was signed by Neal and then-city manager Larry Farnen on June 13, 1983.
Current City Manager Walt Wrede doesn’t disagree with Neal’s assertion that he and Farnen struck a deal requiring the city to plow the park.
"But ... that stipulation never made it into the resolution that the council adopted, or any other documents that the council passed," he said.
Wrede says it wasn’t until a few days after the city council passed the resolution accepting the land that Neal and Farnen agreed that the city would plow an ice skating area on the lake.
"The city's argument was that was not valid ... the only thing that mattered was what the council adopted," he said. "And the judge agreed with that position."
Wrede says he has no idea why the stipulations about snow-plowing the lake never made it into the final resolution the council approved. He says the deal took place so long ago that not many folks who were involved with it are still available.
Wrede says it’s possible that the city could create an ice skating area on Beluga Lake. The reasons that hasn’t happened recently is because of the labor involved in maintaining it and because of the possible insurance liability.
"It's a lake where the ice is often unstable ... and if you're promoting skaitng there, you have to really have a nice, smooth surface so you don't have cracks and you don't have bumps," he sad. "And of course, now we have an indoor ice skating rink that's available with good ice all the time."
Judge Charles Huguelet presided over the case, which took over a year to wind its way through the court. He issued his decision July 10th.