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By Dan Rudy 

Assembly supports Landless group, defers breakwater request

 


The Wrangell City and Borough Assembly passed a resolution supporting the Landless Natives of Wrangell, a group seeking recognition in the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

The resolution was presented for consideration at the Assembly’s April 12 meeting by Christie Jamieson, vice president of the LNW interim board. She explained the board is in the process of incorporating and establishing a formal board, which would then be able to represent local interests in the ongoing effort.

The Act had awarded $1,000,000,000 and 44,000,000 acres of land to Alaska Natives, which provided for the establishment of Native corporations to receive and manage them. Wrangell was one of five communities omitted from ANCSA, along with Petersburg, Ketchikan, Tenakee and Haines. Together they are seeking to be recognized and added to the settlement; currently Senate Bill 872 would amend ANCSA to include the five.

If passed, the bill would allow Wrangell and other communities to organize as urban corporations, receiving settlement land and establishing a settlement trust to “promote the health, education, and welfare of the trust beneficiaries, and preserve the Native heritage and culture of their communities.”

Jamieson pointed out the Wrangell Chamber of Commerce, of which she is board president, also adopted the resolution on April 6. Assembly members voted unanimously to approve the declaration of support.

“Thank you all for your support,” Jamieson told them.

After discussion the Assembly opted to postpone a decision on an application from Big Bites Fishing to construct a facility to moor boats and planes for commercial use. The property in question is adjacent to the Silver Bay Logging Company mill site, which the city is currently evaluating for future development.

Assembly members noted several potential problems with the plan. Becky Rooney expressed her concern at the project’s proposed breakwater, which would extend 580 feet out. The resulting causeway would bear a 10-foot wide top and a base that varies in width from 46 feet at the high tide line and 62 feet at the seaward end. The end of the breakwater would feature a turnaround and unloading area.

“That’s pretty far out there,” she said. Rooney went on to suggest it might be prudent of the city to wait until it gets a better idea of how the adjacent mill site might be developed.

In June 2014 the Assembly approved classification of tidelands at the site at the request of Mark Mitchell, owner of Big Bites and now serving as an Assembly member. Mitchell was not present at the April 12 meeting.

However, city clerk Kim Lane pointed out the necessary fees have still not been paid, which are needed for surveying and appraisal of the site.

“On my end it’s on hold,” she explained.

Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch gave some background information on the situation, which is tied into an application for a site permit with the Army Corps of Engineers. He said Mitchell is trying to acquire the Corps permit before paying the fees and lease, rather than the other way round on the off chance the Corps denies his application.

Another consideration was how the proposed site might interfere with development of the mill site, which itself is speculative. A feasibility study to develop the 110-acre site has been contracted with Maul Foster & Alongi of Bellingham, Wash., and a report is expected by late May or early June.

“I’m all for selling lands off, getting them on the tax rolls. I’ve always been for that,” commented Assembly member Dave Powell. However, he agreed with Rooney that it would behoove the Borough to get a better idea of future development before selling off interests. “That land out there could potentially be (worth) a lot more.”

At the Assembly’s request, Jabusch will forward Mitchell’s application to Maul Foster & Alongi to get its opinion on how it could affect the overall site plan.

In a bit of spring cleaning, the Assembly approved sale of a list of items deemed surplus, ranging from used streetlights and bulbs to riding toys and a 1996 Ford Bronco. Five items on the list had been acquired through state grant funds in 2004, so Jabusch checked to see whether the city might incur liabilities in selling the equipment now that it is no longer needed.

He confirmed that the sale of the items – fish processing equipment which includes a fillet machine, blast freezer and vacuum sealer – would be allowable, but the State of Alaska would prefer that any proceeds from the sale be put toward similar projects.

In his monthly report, Jabusch said he had spoken to the Alaska National Guard folks about the future of Wrangell’s armory. He explained the Guard no longer has any use for the facility and will be canceling its $10 annual lease. The building will be turned over to the city.

He also reported the city had been expecting the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) to raise its employer rate from 22 percent to 26.5 percent over the next three years. However, positive reports from the state have changed that expectation, and the employer share may no longer be increased. Jabusch estimated the change would have cost $160,000 more per year.

Revenue sharing also has some good news, as the amount received from the state dropped from $600,000 last year to around $568,000 this year, to be winnowed down by a third each subsequent year.

“There appears to be a big turnaround on this issue,” Jabusch reported. “First, (legislators) have changed the name to municipal assistance and next they are proposing that cities under about 3,500 in population will receive more than anticipated and the bigger cities will receive much less. It looks like we would even out and stay at about $484,000.

“If this holds true and is approved, this would be great news for Wrangell. But there is lots of time to change their minds,” he said.

 

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