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By Dan Rudy 

Assembly looks to future development, cleaning old messes


At their Tuesday night meeting, members of the Wrangell Borough Assembly learned the former Byford salvage yard will be cleaned up after all.

Earlier in the summer the 2.5-mile site tested positive for considerable contamination from lead and other hazardous metals. Oversight for the investigation has been jointly provided by the Alaska Department of Conservation (DEC) and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Cleanup funding was previously to have come from EPA’s Superfund, but was earlier this month delayed after agency resources were diverted instead to a large-scale spill near Silverton, Colo. Wrangell’s site was to remain a high priority for future funding, but cleanup was to be delayed at least another year or longer.

Economic development director Carol Rushmore informed the Assembly that the DEC would be taking over cleanup at the Byford junkyard site immediately. She learned earlier that afternoon the department funded the project, putting up the $3.9 million decontamination was estimated to cost. The money will come from the Oil and Hazardous Substance Release Prevention and Response Fund.

Looking ahead, after withdrawing into executive session, the Assembly approved moving forward with a feasibility study for the acquisition and development of the former mill site property and Sealy mountain land area. After advertising and other expenses, the city has $87,000 to put toward the study, which was part of a $90,000 FY15 allocation from the Legislature.

The borough’s interest in the privately-owned site at 6-mile Zimovia Highway would be primarily for marine industrial or mixed-use marine and industrial development. The study would take into account probable costs for cleanup and infrastructural requirements for serving the site, while preparing conceptual plans and identifying possible funding sources.

The study would be contracted from private services, and a final report would be produced providing an assessment and future plan.

Similarly, Assembly members approved a draft request of a proposal for the development of the former Institute property. The city would be looking at residential development at the 134-acre site, hoping to curb an eventual “bottleneck” in local property values. The site has some commercial possibilities as well but needs to be evaluated for contamination at former dump sites.

“I’m glad to see this happening,” commented Assembly member Julie Decker. As with development at the mill site, the RFP is funded through a legislative allocation of $100,000.

A master plan would be devised by contracted planners, and would incorporate residential development, green belts, a potential trail network, utilities, and accessibility.

Back in the present, the Assembly also discussed possible solutions to problems the new Rainforest Island Ferry service has been having with landing access to the island. The three-stop service began operations late last month, making stops at Coffman Cove and Banana Point in addition to Wrangell. However, landing has proven unworkable at the originally planned-for site at Shoemaker Bay, and the service’s use of the recreation ramp at Heritage Harbor has also been problematic.

The ferry has subsequently been using the power plant ramp in Inner Harbor, but tidal changes have made scheduled stops difficult for the service.

“I think the ferry would be a good thing,” Decker noted. She recommended the Assembly have Wrangell’s Port Commission take the matter up for solution. “I think they’re best-suited to solve the problem.”

Whatever it determines, Assembly member Daniel Blake pointed out consistency would be important. When the ferry has changed its landing sites on short notice, he said it has caused confusion for travelers. It would be in the better interest of the community and the service to find a permanent access point, he reasoned.

In other business, Assembly members approved vacation of a storage easement on Lot 3, Block A of the Sortyard Subdivision. The request was made by Chuck Jenkins, who is currently in the process of subdividing the Front Street property across from the intersection of St. Michaels Street. The easement predated the addition of fill to the tidal area, and its vacation would allow the subdivision to proceed.

An opening on the Planning and Zoning Commission remains unfilled. With another vacancy expected next month after Rudy Briskar’s term expires, Assembly member Stephen Prysunka expressed concern the commission may struggle to find a quorum, making them unable to take action and so holding up local development.

“I’m worried that we’re running out of people to sit on that,” he said.

Mayor David Jack felt it would be best to wait until after Oct. 6 election results. He suggested people may be more willing to sit on the commission if a ballot proposition exempting city officials from state financial disclosure laws passes.

In May the Assembly approved the proposition’s inclusion on the ballot after a pair of public hearings. At the moment, the mayor, city manager, and members of the assembly, school board and zoning commission are required to file financial disclosures under Alaska Statute 39.50.


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