Wrangell Sentinel -

By Dan Rudy 

Thomas Bay committee may assume new role


An ordinance amending Thomas Bay Power Advisory Committee's role in Wrangell's Municipal Code passed the Wrangell City and Borough Assembly on first reading. A second reading featuring a public hearing will be held on Jan. 27.

The principal change would make the committee advisory to the Wrangell and Petersburg assemblies. This follows the transfer of Lake Tyee hydroelectric power management to Southeast Alaska Power Agency last summer. Borough Clerk Kim Lane explained the proposal was first drafted by Petersburg and submitted to Wrangell for review.

Assembly member Stephen Prysunka questioned whether the change would violate any of the Borough's agreements with SEAPA.

“Our attorney made quite a few changes to make it acceptable,” Lane replied. It then went back to Petersburg for some final review before coming back for the Assembly's approval. Petersburg will also consider making an identical change.

The Assembly also approved and voted to implement the final draft of a recycling plan devised by consultants Richard Hertzberg and Chris Bell. The plan begins modestly, opting for centralized collection areas residents can take their recyclable solid waste items.

Coastal Impact Assistance Program grant funds available through the United States Fish and Wildlife Service would contribute $49,000 to the purchase of an $85,000 baler. An additional $50,000 to acquire the baler and start up the program was approved by the Assembly to be taken from the General Fund.

“We've got to start somewhere,” said Jack. The program will be an initial step toward possibly having curbside pickup for recycling, depending on its overall reception and effect on the budget. The Borough expects it may lower overall garbage shipping costs through a combination of financial and logistical incentives.

Jack also appointed Chris Hatton to sit on the Participating Municipality Director SEASWA Board of Directors.

In another move to go green, the Assembly approved the ordering of iPad tablets for their use in official business. Assembly member Julie Decker supported the move, suggesting it would save paper. To illustrate, she brought a full box of materials she collected over the past year's business on the Assembly.

Lane ran a cost analysis, which figured $2,503 worth of paper, binding materials and labor went into producing the Assembly's meeting packets. Seven iPad Air models with device protection would cost around $4,360, ostensibly paying for themselves in less than two years.

Assembly members also reviewed and approved a policy to hire contractors for city projects running $25,000 and under, postponed from the Dec. 9, 2014 meeting. This would create a pool of qualified contractors available for small public projects, with a list whith which to cycle through names on a rotating basis.

Contractor John Taylor came forward to comment on the proposal.

“It all looks very good to me but the first line,” he told the Assembly. He asked that they change to the wording to specify hiring “local” contractors for projects. “I think that is an important word that should be in there.”

Assembly member Mark Mitchell mentioned most of the contractors and workers he has discussed the policy with were in general agreement with the idea. He supported the proposal, saying it would help protect the Borough from liabilities by contracting unqualified people, while also keeping things fair by allowing those interested in undertaking the work equal opportunity.

With a couple of minor amendments to the language, the Assembly passed the item unanimously.

In a narrow split, the Assembly ultimately rejected a proposed rate schedule put forward by the Parks Department. Looking at the planned price increases for user fees and periodic pool passes, members felt the increases would be too high for many residents.

On the other hand, the Assembly was also generally supportive of scrapping the corporate discount, which had created a significant disparity in pool pass pricing depending on where one worked.

“I think you put a lot of time into making this logical,” Decker told Parks director Amber Al-Haddad. In dissenting, Decker felt the goal of establishing an orderly fee structure also lost sight of making facility usage affordable. In particular, she pointed to the annual family pool pass, set to climb from $450 this year to $1210 in 2021.

The Assembly was split three to three over the measure, sending it back to the drawing board.

Wrangell Medical Center also received Assembly approval to revise their personnel policy, affecting employees' health plan insurance deductibles and eliminating its employee discount policy.

WMC CEO Marla Sanger explained the change was recommended by the hospital's insurance broker, in an effort to reduce costs and limit risk to penalties under the Affordable Care Act.

Planners for future waterfront development stopped in to present their preliminary findings to the Assembly. Chris Mertl of Corvus Designs spoke on behalf of the group, who have been invited by the Borough to hold a public workshop in order to develop the plan.

The goal is to direct projects in the fill area between City Dock and the Marine Service Center, in stages creating a mixed-use development that the community wanted. On Monday evening the first of several public discussions was held, with around 40 residents appearing to say what they liked, disliked and wanted from the plan.

Positives included the location's view, nearness to the business district and its status as “a working waterfront.” This includes the service yard, docks and nearby harbor catering to commerce, fishing and industry.

“Basically it says Wrangell is open for business,” said Mertl.

Negatives tended to be aesthetic, with a perceived clutter of shipping containers and work vehicles, and a desire to move barge operations elsewhere. Pedestrian connectivity between the dock and Nolan Center and dog excrement were other things people did not like about the current waterfront.

In the end, Mertl and his associates will continue to work with community members to integrate their different ideas into improving the waterfront. After yesterday's follow-up presentation, planners will return late February to take discussions to the next level.

In other business, Pamella McCloskey submitted her resignation from the Assembly.

“She will be missed,” said Assembly member Daniel Blake. Members tasked Lane with advertising the availability, hoping to have it filled before their next Jan. 27 meeting.


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