Assembly unanimously votes to approve Thomas Bay letter


The borough assembly voted 5-0 Tuesday to approve a joint letter inviting the Southeast Alaska Power Agency (SEAPA) to submit an offer on Tyee Lake.

A widely disseminated informal offer for SEAPA to take over operations at the Wrangell hydroelectric plant has been circulated since early September. The letter, which has already been approved by the Petersburg borough assembly, requests “SEAPA review the attached resolutions and provide a written proposal back to the two communities under what terms SEAPA would accept this transfer.”

The request is the next step in a process begun this summer with the decision by the Petersburg borough to withhold $55,000 in funding for a portion of the Thomas Bay Power Authority operating costs known as the non-net billable, which can’t be funded by electrical bills. The non-net billable has historically been $110,000, funded by joint contributions from Wrangell and Petersburg.

Discussion prior to the approval focused around the particulars under which the transfer would be completed.

Labor union contracts have the TBPA commission as a signatory, and a move to prematurely dissolve the commission or the authority could have negative consequences for all parties, said TBPA president and assembly member James Stough.

“By giving full contract authority to them to negotiate contracts, hire people … and all of that, we’re overstepping our own ordinances, in a sense that we are not following proper procedure of what we’re doing,” he said. “I don’t want to see us getting into problems with unions.”

TBPA is a joint-action agency created by ordinance changes in Petersburg and Wrangell, and serves as a contractor for SEAPA to operate and maintain the Tyee Lake facility. In the event that it were dissolved without a transition period to provide a contract (up to a year, by the existing contract, though the exact terms are negotiable, authorities said).

“That’s all I’ve ever asked for is that we follow the rules,” he said.

However, the resolution passed Dec. 10, 2013 and subsequently approved by the Petersburg assembly, moves the commission to an inactive status without dissolving it, thus allowing for negotiations without requiring ordinance changes, Assembly member Julie Decker said.

“I assume that they would be talking with Thomas Bay and their employees, but do you want that specifically spelled out?” she said.

The letter didn’t have to be amended, Stough said, but communications between SEAPA and TBPA were necessary to ensure the smoothest transition.

“The tricky part is, say if the communities took ordinance action that eliminated” the TBPA commission, said borough manager Jeff Jabusch. “If we pass that ordinance at the next meeting, Thomas Bay goes away, the contract goes, we don’t have anything, then. It’s a timing thing that you almost have to do all of it at the same time.”

An offer would need to be evaluated with these things in mind, Jabusch said.

Assembly members also discussed the fact that the Petersburg assembly voted to help fund operations at Tyee through the end of the fiscal year.

Stephen Helgeson delivered a presentation about his plans for Raven Guitars, which recently won the first Path to Prosperity sustainable economic development competition, and a $40,000 grant to begin research. The first year will be spent on a range of activities from marketing and training to developing a fusion of high-tech tools and traditional methods and a prototype, Helgeson said.

The idea is to grow the business over the course of six years and to eventually manufacture 600 guitars per year.

Helgeson and partner Kevin Feek “want to see jobs in our communities and for our children,” Helgeson said.

Projecting forward based on 2012 sales research, the business will produce 44 to 50 guitars and hire two employees, in its second year. In the third year, Raven hopes to produce about 160 guitars with five full-time employees. By the fifth year, Raven hopes to have 10 full-time jobs and produce more than $2 million per year in revenue, Helgeson said.

In other business, the assembly voted to accept a low bid from Petro Marine Services for fuel provided to the borough, the Wrangell school system, and the medical center.

The difference between the bids, conducted this year for the first time using a new system to account for the similarities between Petro Marine Services and Delta Western, amounts to approximately $88,000, Jabusch said.

The assembly voted 5-0 to pass on second reading an ordinance which would change the terms under which officials are elected to the assembly by eliminating a seat designation.

An ordinance abolishing the cemetery committee also passed 5-0 on first reading.

The assembly also voted 5-0 to approve on first reading an ordinance change that would eliminate the concept of a unit cost and add instead the idea of a sale price to an existing code related to a sales tax cap. The ordinance would also raise the cap from $1,200 to $1,500.

The sales tax and cemetary ordinances will go before a public hearing scheduled for March 11.


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