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By Dan Rudy 

Jabusch announces retirement plans, pot zoning passes first read


The Borough Assembly’s Tuesday evening meeting was one for surprises.

For one, the half-dozen residents in attendance – a good turnout by the measure of most meetings – were surprised to find the first read through of proposed zoning ordinance revisions allowing for the conditional permitting of cannabis retail and cultivation had passed unanimously and with little comment from members on the Assembly. Second reading and a public hearing has been set for October 10.

But the larger surprise came as an announcement by Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch that he planned to retire in the spring. Addressing Assembly members from a prepared statement, Jabusch explained he felt the time had come where he was prepared to move on. He has worked for the city since 1977, first as its finance director, then stepping in as manager several times during the 1990s on an interim basis before succeeding Tim Rooney after his retirement in 2013.

“It’s just time,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed all the hundreds of people I’ve worked with,” from city employees and senators to the many people who call Wrangell home. “It’s just been a great experience.”

Since coming aboard as the city’s accountant in the 1970s, Jabusch said the community has progressed a long way. The only paved stretch of road when he started spanned Front Street from Angerman’s to the Diamond C, and in the ensuing spread of time to the present Wrangell has transformed and diversified from a timber industry to one of shipbuilding, fishing and tourism. New projects like the boatyard, Nolan Center, Heritage Harbor and improved utilities have been a part of that progression, one which may continue with others like the Institute property and new hospital facilities.

“There’s always things like that. There’s always some improvement and always something the city needs,” Jabusch commented.

With his 64th birthday approaching in December and his wife, Kay Jabusch, retiring as head librarian at the end of 2014, he said he looked forward to being able to spend more time with his family. Jabusch intends to continue working within the community as a volunteer and other capacities, and said he will be meeting with departmental heads to set priorities and prepare for the transition, tentatively set for March 31, 2017.

After the meeting, colleagues on the Assembly shook his hand and wished Jabusch well. They bid farewell too to member Daniel Blake, for whom Tuesday’s meeting would be the last on the Assembly before next week’s election. Declining to run for another term, Blake said the decision was due to work considerations.

“Maybe one day I’ll come back,” Blake said. “I’ve enjoyed my time. I learned a lot as far as how the city works.”

Departures aside, another more pleasant surprise for the Assembly Tuesday was that decontamination of the former Byford junkyard has been completed. The state Department of Environmental Conservation and contractor NRC Alaska began excavation of the site this summer, addressing hazardous levels of lead, petroleum and other contaminants leftover from around 1,500 vehicles disposed of at the former junkyard.

The DEC Division of Spill Prevention and Response on September 21 declared the site no longer unsafe, at a cost of about $6,500,000. As the city had acquired the property due to foreclosure, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and DEC had assumed responsibility in heading up and financing its decontamination. The end goal was to make the site suitable for eventual residential development.

Also a new development, Jabusch confirmed Alaska Island Community Services and Southeast Alaska Rural Health Consortium were in discussions about possible transfer or sale of the former’s Wrangell clinic to the latter. Jabusch told the Assembly he had informed AICS that there were conditions in the city’s transference of land to the clinic which would still remain in effect in the event of a sale or transfer to another party.

Specifically, the clinic site would automatically revert to the city should the property be used for a purpose other than “primary medical, educational, social, mental health, and substance abuse services.”

In other regularly scheduled business, the Assembly approved on second reading issuance of a $91,000 sewer revenue bond in order to help finance ongoing improvements to the city’s sewage system, and an ordinance amending its code on building permits.

Assembly members also approved a resolution offering conditional support for the Alaska Mental Health Land Exchange Act of 2016, a proposed exchange between the AMH Trust and United States Forest Service for land spread between the Ketchikan, Juneau, Petersburg, Sitka and Wrangell areas.

The transfer would encompass nearly 37,000 acres of land between the two parties, and of the targeted lands in the Wrangell area the city’s resolution requested 115 acres of developable parcels near Pats Lake and Pats Creek be considered for alternative use.

“Once it goes to the Forest Service then it’s lost for development purposes,” explained economic development director Carol Rushmore. The resolution is supportive of other transfers outlined in the proposal, as well as expedition of the process from around five years to as little as 12 months.

“It’s a last-ditch effort,” Rushmore said of the city’s request. “I don’t know if anything would come of it or not.”


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