HOMER - Police were forced to separate demonstrators and loggers after a Native corporation went ahead with clear-cutting on 14 acres in the heart of Homer.
The disturbance occurred Sunday as Cook Inlet Region Inc. of Anchorage began cutting trees off the land in response to city officials considering a new rule regulating land clearing.
The large undeveloped parcel has been discussed as a vital part of the future town square, and also as the site for Homer's first big-box store.
About 50 protesters were on hand as CIRI finished cutting all the big trees on the land. An escalating confrontation with protesters was halted when the company set aside plans to shred the younger spruce still covering much of the land with a mechanical hydro ax.
CIRI wants a prompt, legally binding commitment from the city not to pursue the tree-cutting regulation or it will go ahead with the clear-cut, said Kirk McGee, CIRI vice president of real estate.
"I would prefer not to hydro-ax. But I'm not going to be facing regulations like that," said McGee. "They need to take that gun away from my head."
Homer residents who rushed to the land in the middle of town said they were appalled to see the feller-buncher grinding through the woods. Most of the big trees were still green and healthy, having avoided infestation from spruce bark beetles.
"I can't believe somebody who owns so many acres in the middle of town would do something like that and admit it," said Kim Terpening.
Most of the land was originally unused federal property that the Native corporation claimed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
Fred Meyer has a contract giving the store rights to eight of the 14 acres, McGee said. No final decision has been made about building a store in Homer.
Homer Mayor Jack Cushing said the city has told CIRI it may be interested in developing the property as a town square incorporating a new library and other facilities.
McGee said the city showed little interest in the property until the Fred Meyer deal came along.
The prospect of a big store coming to town has fanned public discussion for months and prompted the City Council to create a task force to recommend size limits and other regulations for commercial development. A temporary limit was imposed, and a proposal for a 40,000-square-foot limit will go before Homer's planning commission this week.
Fred Meyer officials said last winter that they were hoping to build a store twice that size in Homer.
The idea for a landscaping regulation grew out of the same task force and is scheduled to go to the planning commission for review later this month.
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