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By Dan Rudy 

Borough infrastructure projects slow but proceeding


At its meeting on Aug. 25, the Wrangell City and Borough Assembly were updated on developments of a number of civil improvement projects just getting started or currently in progress.

In his monthly report, Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch explained that the Alaska Department of Transportation’s (ADOT) work on Evergreen Avenue continues to progress slowly. Bidding was initially expected to begin last fall, but delays have pushed the project forward by a year. Jabusch explained the next step will be a community planning meeting, which will allow residents to provide input to ADOT.

“All the people who are affected out there will have the opportunity,” he said, adding that he hoped to see the meeting scheduled for this month, but instead it is slated for November.

After community planning, the next steps in the project will be to secure land and agreements, finalize a design, and go out to bid. However, the city has concerns work will not be completed before the onset of fall and winter weather next year, which could delay the project’s end until 2017.

“Our concern is all those little steps can take several months,” said Jabusch. He added that the work could go more quickly than similar paving projects, as there will not be any major utility improvements undertaken. A couple of spot improvements will be addressed by the city before paving begins.

“We’ll have those fixed soon, in the spring,” Jabusch anticipated.

In its entirety, the Evergreen improvements should cost just below $6 million; Wrangell’s share of the project will be 9.03 percent, or around $540,000. Those funds are to come from the city’s street fund, which comes from a portion of local sales taxes. By the end of this past fiscal year in July, the fund was projected to have stood at $738,000.

The Assembly approved a sole-source procurement expenditure to Alaska Pump & Supply for the pumps and control panels as part of the city’s sewer pump replacement project. The equipment will cost $186,380 and be funded from grants, an ADEC project loan and departmental reserves.

The project will replace two of the borough’s aging sewer pumps, located near the boatyard and power plant.

“The one at the power plant is most critical, but we wanted to do both of them,” Jabusch explained.

Funds are largely to come through the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, which will cover 75 percent. Though costs were first estimated $600,000, later estimates put the total at between $900,000 and $1 million. Further funding was acquired from the federal Department of Agriculture, in the form of a $68,000 grant and a $91,000 loan. The city’s share will come to around $78,000, in addition to the 40-year loan.

While funding will not be an issue, time will be of the essence. The pump units may take two or three months to ship from Sweden, and even with an extension the project deadline has been set for June 30, 2016. Worse, the 38-year-old pumps currently in use are well past their life expectancy.

“It can fail at any time, and you’ll have a harbor full of sewage,” he warned.

Decontamination of the former Byford junkyard has been delayed, after funds set aside by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were diverted to Colorado following a mining spill last month near Silverton, Colorado. Three million gallons of contaminated water from the Gold King Mine were accidentally released by EPA and contract workers during an inspection on Aug. 3. The subsequent containment and cleanup of the site has become a top priority for the agency.

“The failure in Colorado affected us, too,” Jabush told the Assembly. In June city staff announced that the Byrford property at Zimovia Highway’s 4-mile point had tested positive for lead and other metals contamination. Because Wrangell had acquired the property through foreclosure, the EPA and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) were going to spearhead the cleanup effort.

Though funds for the cleanup have been diverted elsewhere, the project has not been scrapped.

“We are labeled for first in next year’s monies,” Jabusch explained. In the meantime, he said the city will look at acquiring and posting signs to deter potential visitors to the site.

In other business, Assembly members passed a transitional ordinance on second reading, setting Sep. 15 and Dec. 15 of this year as due dates for 2015 property taxes. To help residents transition to a new, single payment deadline established by ordinance in May, it was recommended they be allowed this year to pay in two installments this year.

Beginning next year Sep. 15 will be the deadline for payment, after which late fees will be levied. But in passing the transitional dates, Assembly members wondered whether a single date in October would be more convenient, due to many residents receiving Permanent Fund Dividends by then. The matter will be brought up for discussion at the Sept. 8 meeting.

Two ordinances revising the fine schedule for Wrangell’s public marijuana ban were also passed on first reading, with a public hearing to follow on Sept. 8.

The changes make using the drug in public a finable infraction, rather than a criminal offense. Under the new changes, people cited for violating the ban would not have to appear in court to pay fines.

Assembly members authorized a contract with BW Enterprises for second-phase improvements of Cassiar Street in the amount of $135,500. The Assembly also approved a contract with Ozone Water Systems for the supply of one ozone generator in the amount of $174,690. Funding is to come from the water department’s fixed assets budget, with an amendment of $24,690 to come from its reserve fund.

In ceremonial business, a certificate of service was issued to Cyni Waddington for her service on the Wrangell School Board between Oct. 2013 to Aug. 2015. Mayor David Jack also proclaimed the month of September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Community members are encouraged to extend their support to children undergoing cancer treatments and their families.


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