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By Dan Rudy 

Borough's roaming dogs' days are numbered


The Wrangell Borough Assembly had a full plate when it met Tuesday evening, starting with steps toward solving the city's dog problem.

Members examined proposed changes drawn up by the borough's code review committee which would reduce loopholes and correct the fee schedule for code infractions concerning the handling and restraint of animals within borough limits.

The committee has been going through all the borough's codes for possible revision in turn, but this particular issue has taken precedence.

“That was moved up to the forefront,” said Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch.

Ordinances 886 and 887 would amend and add new sections to titles 1 and 7 of the Wrangell Municipal Code. Among the changes, the fine schedule would be altered to better take into account court surcharges.

Assembly members had some questions about whether the wording of the ordinances was too broad or the fines too small to be dissuasive.

“With the court costs being added to that, it's pretty substantial,” Mayor David Jack noted. Fines were lowered for a number of first- and second-offense infractions, such as for animals at large, off-leash area rules and related offenses. However, for third, fourth, and subsequent repeat offenses, some fines were actually increased.

Definitions related to the lawful keeping of dogs, cats and other pets in the code would also be refined with the proposed changes, with penalties recommended by the State of Alaska Court.

These are part of the borough administration's approach to reducing the problem of roaming dogs and their unremediated litter. This includes looking into signage and installing disposal receptacles in town, as well as taking steps to raise public awareness of the issue.

Borough Clerk Kim Lane said the committee spent a great deal of time going over the animal ordinances being proposed.

“I believe this is a good medium,” she said. “It may not please everybody but it'll please most.”

After a lengthy discussion, the Assembly voted unanimously to approve the ordinances on first reading as given and move to a second. A public hearing for these and other proposed code changes is scheduled for Sept. 9 at 6:30 p.m. in the Assembly Chambers.

The Assembly also took a step forward toward dealing with a problem with its underground water mains. The ductile iron pipes the city began using in 1980 to replace those using asbestos cement material have shown a worrying tendency to prematurely fail. There had been three major breaks in one week last fall and a number of major ruptures disrupting domestic service, local business and fire protection.

“If we don't at some point start replacing this then we are going to have a disaster,” Jabusch informed the chamber. For the past five years, all Wrangell water projects have begun specifying high density polyethylene mains for future development.

The replacement process will be a phased process, and city staff have begun applying for grants to assist with funding. To help in the grant application process, a project was submitted to the Department of Environmental Conservation for a drinking water loan of $542,000 in January. Securing a loan can improve chances for a grant on DEC's grading system, and all or a portion of it could be used toward a match for funding if needed.

“We're not going to use any of this until we've had a chance to apply for the grant,” Jabusch explained. A portion or the total amount could be returned, though he pointed out that, in the worst case, the interest rate was at a low 1.5 percent.

The Assembly voted to approve securing the loan. Jabusch said the Public Works Department would begin taking a comprehensive look at all the borough's roads to determine which areas would need replacement the soonest.

More discussion was had over a proposed letter addressed to Alaska's congressional delegates which would underline the community's opposition to the development and operation of open-pit mining facilities along the Stikine River and its tributaries in Canada's British Columbia province.

Assemblyman Daniel Blake brought up the tailings pond break at the Mount Polley mine earlier in the month, which released millions of gallons of contaminated water and heavy metals into its surrounding river systems. He expressed concern that similar disaster could happen on the Stikine, given the similarities to current developments just across the border at Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell and other mining projects.

“When these things happen,” he said, “it's going to completely devastate our salmon fisheries.” Wrangell has already had to transition its economic focus once, he added, referring to the closure of its timber industry.

Assembly members Mark Mitchell and Julia Decker felt the proposed wording of the letter was too strong. Pamella McCloskey also felt the inclusion of the Stikine's tributaries was also overly expansive.

In the end, the Assembly decided to amend the letter to state its concern with development, rather than express a complete opposition to it.

The Assembly also approved a letter of support by the mayor for the Swan Lake Reservoir expansion project. The Southeast Alaska Power Agency (SEAPA) is preparing a grant application for the completion of the hydro storage capacity-expanding project.

Assembly members agreed to authorize the processing of 2012 to 2013 property tax foreclosures and to sell certain foreclosed lots through the land disposal process.

It also approved the design proposal from WHPacific for the remodel of Wrangell's courtroom facilities and the payment of $41,597 in fees from the General Reserve Fund.

The Assembly also extended its thanks and recognition both to Margaret Villarma and Tim Buness for 25 years of service to the community.

Mayor David Jack proclaimed September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, citing the affliction as the leading cause of death by disease among American children under 15.

According to the American Cancer Fund for Children, more than 15,000 children die from cancer each year.

During his manager's report, Jabusch confirmed that all the parties that were part of the agreement transferring authority of the Thomas Bay Power Authority (TBPA) to SEAPA have signed on. SEAPA officially took over operations of the facility on Aug. 16. The City and Borough of Wrangell has since assumed the task of paying bills, payroll, insurance issues and all other aspects of the transfer up until that date.

Wrangell and Petersburg will both have to pay for accrued vacation time prior to the transfer, due to those figures being recorded as an expense that has been deducted from the borough's power bills. Jabusch reported that, while the amount is still being calculated, it should not exceed the $55,000 previously budgeted to cover TBPA expenses.

The middle school has been having water troubles as well, with its 30 year old, 1,200-gallon water tank rusting out. Because the building was constructed around the large tank, a similarly sized replacement has been ruled out. A mechanical contractor is currently looking at alternatives.

The tank serviced the school's domestic water needs, and its loss also has rendered the public pool unusable in the meantime. In addition, staff have been having trouble maintaining the pool's chlorine levels and heat exchange cylinders.

“Everything that could go wrong up there has gone wrong,” Jabusch commented.

He also reported some personnel changes, with the hiring of Bruce Smith Sr at the line department, transferral of Tim Berberich from pool maintenance to the Harbor, and the resignation of George Howell from the Harbor Department.

Online With Libraries has upgraded Wrangell Public Library's internet access, doubling bandwidth for only $20 extra per month. The OWL program is picking up most of the costs.


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