Assembly votes to approve energy committee
The Borough Assembly undertook one of their longest and most productive sessions in recent months this week as they attempted for a second time to form an “energy committee,” approved a number of contracts and construction projects, and took under consideration a recent protest over use of the former Wrangell Institute property for storage of timber from an Alaska Mental Heath Land Trust land sale.
The formation of an energy committee, which would be tasked with looking at the possibilities of divestiture or staying linked with the Southeast Alaska Power Agency, was shot down at the last regular meeting of the Assembly – but approved a special committee to include public officials and citizens of the Borough unanimously on Tuesday night.
During discussion Assembly member James Stough spoke of his high level support of the plan.
“I think that this is the first step in moving forward,” Stough said. “I think we need to start advertising for these people.”
The committee will consist of two Assembly members, one member of the general public, the Wrangell SEAPA Board member, a Wrangell TBPA representative and two Borough Staff Members. They will be tasked with reviewing and recommending to the Borough Assembly information regarding a contractually required independent review of the sale of individual projects in 2014.
Borough Manager Tim Rooney’s bi-weekly report included a memorandum from Economic Development director Carol Rushmore that explained the situation and expressed the concerns of residents near the Wrangell Institute over an MHLT timber sale recently awarded to Alcan Timber of Ketchikan.
“Access to the timber harvest area is through a lot owned by Mental Health Land Trust adjacent to Mr. Daryl Gross,” Rushmore wrote. “Many of the residents along this stretch did comment on the proposed sale. The Borough also commented, requesting that MHLT listen to the requests of the adjacent residents, minimize impacts from the sale, and leave at least 100 foot buffer between the sale and residential property. Mr. Daryl Gross is upset as to the lack of notice that Mental Health Trust provided to the residents and that the Borough did not notify landowners. He is also very concerned as to the disruption in his life that will be caused by the logging trucks passing by his house. He is also concerned as to the safety and health issues that could result from the timber harvest. Mr. Gross is concerned that the asbestos abatement and removal project at the Institute has created contaminated trees and will stir up any remaining asbestos resulting in further contamination and health risks for the residences and park users.”
While Rushmore made no recommendation to the Assembly as to a possible action on the matter, she did inform them that Planning and Zoning Commission, “wants the Assembly to be aware that residents along this stretch are not in favor of the timber harvesting.”
Wrangell’s Whale Bay Woods was the losing bidder on the sale. Ketchikan’s Alcan Timber Products was the winning bidder.
Federal sequestration also figured heavily in Rooney’s report – with an estimate of what federal dollars might go away in the Borough.
“While the details are not fully known at this time, what is known is the cuts will occur in FY 2013,” Rooney stated. “This makes the cuts even more noticeable as they will occur in the last half of the fiscal year rather than be spread out over the entire year.”
Rooney wrote that possible impacts to Wrangell include:
-Essential Air Service: 5 percent reduction. Air service providers are likely to absorb this cut to their payments in the last 7 months of the year.
-Payment in Lieu of Taxes: 5 percent. This is a cut below what the Borough is projected to receive in its June payment.
-Secure Rural Schools: No impact on Title I funds as they came from FY 2012 and the check has already gone out the door. Title II funding should not be affected either; however, Forest Service operating expenses will be and that might postpone RAC meetings/deliberations. Reauthorization is still needed for the program to continue next year.
-USFS: 5 percent. Furloughs are likely in USFS regional offices and cutbacks are possible in the Wrangell Ranger District, including reduced operating hours, less trail and campground maintenance. The timber roads program would face the same cut.
-Federal Aid in Highways: Highway formula programs are exempt. State transportation projects involving Federal highway dollars should proceed at prior funding levels. The same can be expected for the Alaska Marine Highway Service.
-FAA: 5 percent. Any FAA navigational aids at the airport or other operating expenses covered by the FAA would be reduced. Grants in aid for airport improvements have been exempted from the cuts.
-TSA: 5 percent. Furloughs likely.
Federal agencies, starting in April, are planning to furlough civilian personnel one day a week with no pay. Other areas that will see reductions are external grants, contracts, and other services.
An October ballot initiative to drop the local sales tax rate from 7-percent to 5.5-percent was also mentioned by Rooney under the finance section of his report.
“If the sales tax proposition is approved and sales tax goes to 5.5 percent, the revenue loss will be about $503,000. Again, I plan to have a budget for sales tax at 7 percent and an alternate at 5.5 percent with both approved by the assembly after public participation,” Rooney added.
Users of City Park for camping may soon be able to spend up to 48 hours in the recreation area thanks to the first reading of a modified ordinance allowing an increase from the current 24-hour limit.
During the March 6 Parks and Recreation meeting the board passed a motion to extend the camping hours in City Park from 24 hours to 48 hours. The motion also included overnight parking for vehicles transporting tent campers.
“The reason for this change was feedback from the Forest Service interpreter at the Nolan Center during the summers,” wrote department manager Kim Covalt in a memorandum to the Assembly. “There were numerous tourists that indicated they would stay and camp close to town at City Park if the time limit was increased.”
The Assembly also unanimously approved two proposed resolutions – one supporting Senate Bill 60 and House Bill 145 – and another urging funding for an expansion project at Swan Lake.
The proposal to support the bills came after a letter was sent from Julie Decker to Alaska Senator Cathy Giessel, the chair of the Senate Resources Committee requesting consideration of the sea otter debate currently being discussed in Juneau.
“These marine mammals consume shellfish at a rate of approximately 25 percent of their body weight (average of 65 lbs) each day, equating to an average annual shellfish consumption of 148 million pounds,” Decker wrote, stating further, “SB 60 will encourage the legal harvest of sea otters by Alaska Natives in order to save shellfish species in Southeast Alaska. SB 60 will also elevate the discussion and the seriousness of the problem. We hope further productive discussions regarding proactive sea otter management will lead to innovative ideas which will provide a win‐win solution for all who depend upon the shellfish resources in the region.”
Earlier this month, Senator Bert Stedman introduced legislation that would have the state pay $100 for each sea otter lawfully killed under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The proposed resolution supporting the Swan Lake expansion was approved with no comment or discussion from the Assembly. The quorum also authorized Rooney to purchase a Ford F550 truck from Cal Worthington Ford for the price of $39,246.00 and they voted unanimously to approve two PND Engineering contracts for work at the Marine Service Center and Heritage Harbor. The combined value of the contracts is specified not to exceed $528,221.
The next meeting of the Assembly is scheduled for April 9 at City Hall.