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By Dan Rudy 

Vendors concerned about ground rate rise


There was a good turnout for the boatyard storage fees workshop before the Port Commission's monthly meeting Feb. 5. Wrangell's Harbor Department is looking at altering two fees, for both storage and work spaces at its Marine Service Center.

At the moment, ground rates are per diem set at 50 cents per square-foot. The department has been looking at raising this to 75 cents.

“I think that's too big of an increase,” said one local vendor, Don Sorric. “That's not small potatoes.”

He was concerned the increase would adversely affect Wrangell's business. Though still lower than other yards' ground rates, he added that projects can take more time in Wrangell than in Port Townsend, for example, due to transportation delays.

“It's a matter of logistics here,” Sorric said. “Anything you need in Wrangell is more than a week away.” Weather and labor needs are also factors to consider before drawing such comparisons, he added.

“We feel our biggest competition here is Hoonah,” he said. Now on par with each other, a raising of rates would put Wrangell's yard above, affecting competitiveness.

“We want to see the boats keep coming into Wrangell,” Sorric concluded. “Maybe a small increment of increase would be more acceptable to people.”

Harbormaster Greg Meissner replied that the 50-percent increase only seemed like a large jump because the rates have not been adjusted since the yard began operations.

“We've done everything we could for as long as we could,” he said, as far as keeping rates low. Looking at what MSC charges for various services, his department identified ground and storage rates as being out of step with current market prices.

Meissner further explained he did not want to raise prices for the sake of raising prices, but that the increased revenue would pay for new staff in order to extend yard hours.

Specifically, he would like to add a full-time lift operator position, as well as another seasonal position. He estimates it would cost $85,000 for the year-round employee, plus another $15,000 to $20,000 for the temp.

At the moment, Meissner projects the service yard should be $90,000 in the black by the end of the fiscal year. The additional money brought in by the increase would help pay the difference and still keep some money in reserve in case an emergency maintenance need should arise.

Sorric questioned the harbor department's need for another full-time employee, particularly during the slower winter months.

“To have another person on board, what're we going to do with him?” he asked.

Sorric suggested it would make more sense to have seasonal positions to operate lifts during the summer, or to offer current employees more overtime hours.

“That's where this conversation may blend in the end,” Meissner replied. The yard currently has two operators qualified to run the lifts, one of whom is also the department's mechanic. Pulling him off to control lifts at the yards means he cannot perform his other duties, which Meissner explained could pose other scheduling difficulties. He said the department will have to examine its different options ahead of its next workshop, at 6 p.m on March 2.

Welder Chuck Jenkins also appeared before the commission to request them improving the boatyard's electrical infrastructure by his business' side of the yard. At the moment, Jenkins' said his shop is having to use extension cords to operate its 220-volt three-phase welders.

“We can certainly look into what it'd cost to do that,” replied Clay Hammer, chairing the commission. However, he added the work to rewire and concrete an update could easily top $100,000, depending on what needs to be done.

Local vendor Josh Young returned with a formally-written request of the Borough to pay for drainage improvements outside his shop. At last month's meeting, he had brought up water drainage issues with his lease lot at the service yard.

Young is currently preparing to set up a concrete pad for a permanent shop structure, but has noticed water pools up near the future entrance, posing a problem for his fiberglassing. When he put in a bid on the lease back in 2013, the concrete had not been laid down yet.

“That was shaped exactly like it's shaped right now,” Meissner responded. The concrete work had already been designed and bid for by the time the auction had begun, and the drains had been in place since the winter of 2011.

“I don't feel the city did anything wrong in the auction,” he concluded. Commissioners agreed, telling Young all vendors have had to pay for whatever improvements to their individual lease lots they wanted, and that he would have to do the same.

In other items, the Mariners Memorial plan is reportedly 95-percent complete, and a document should be ready to bid within three weeks. Copies of the memorial will be available to view at City Hall. A new grader also arrived last week, and once the weather dries a bit Meissner explained it can be used to repair the parking lot at Shoemaker Bay.

Plans for implementing float rates at Meyers Chuck slowly continue to develop. While prices seem to have been settled, the Port Commission still needs to arrange a method of float management with Meyers Chuck residents.


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