Airport COVID greeter, tire shredder positions remain unfilled

Temporary jobs created by the borough last month remain unfilled — an airport greeter to familiarize travelers with COVID-19 rules and two tire shredder positions.

The airport greeter position, approved by the borough assembly on Oct. 12, is a part-time, temporary position at $15.09 per hour and requires the worker to drive to the airport, ferry terminal, harbors or other locations to greet incoming travelers and inform them of the borough’s COVID travel testing mandates.

The position, which requires a high school diploma or GED, would involve regular reporting to the Emergency Operations Center manager regarding the effectiveness of the greeter program.

The position does not include benefits, said Jeff Good, interim borough manager.

In the meantime, since the position is still empty, “for the airport, we are working with them to get a bigger, more visible sign on the wall for COVID testing,” Good said. The sign would replace a sandwich board outside the terminal doors that lists the Wrangell Medical Center’s clinic location and hours.

The borough requires that all travelers into town must either upload to the state travel portal proof of a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of their departure for Wrangell or take a test upon arrival at the Wrangell Medical Center.

Alaska residents are exempt from the testing requirement if they agree to quarantine for 14 days after arriving in town.

Fully vaccinated travelers are exempt from the borough’s testing or self-quarantine rules.

The two tire shredder positions also are unfilled. The borough assembly in October approved a resolution to share a $56,700 tire cutter purchased with a grant awarded to the Southeast Conference on behalf of the Southeast Alaska Solid Waste Authority.

The grant covered the cost of buying the hydraulic-powered unit; each community will pay $25 a day for its maintenance and upkeep on days the unit is used.

The public works department received one applicant, but that did not pan out, Director Tom Wetor said. The positions start at $14.54 an hour and do not include benefits.

The plan was to chop tires until the bottom of a massive pile at the dump could be reached. “In an ideal world, we would have been able to get to all of them,” Wetor said.

Of the regional waste authority’s member communities, the tire cutter came here first because Wrangell led the conversation about the need for the machine to reduce the shipping volume of discarded tires stacked up around Southeast.

But there are inherent hazards of being first when it comes to something new. Wetor said a hydraulic pump on the cutter broke the first week Wrangell had it, and the cutter was down for seven to 10 days. The company that makes the equipment, a mom-and-pop operation out of Iowa, Wetor said, usually sends a technician in person to set up their equipment, but they didn’t send someone to Alaska.

“I don’t think they ever sold one this far away,” Wetor said, and hadn’t anticipated having to budget to send a tech to Alaska.

The company sent a replacement part, which got waylaid in Anchorage before it reached Wrangell. And instead of having a technician in person to help set up the equipment, or fix it, the department mechanic was on the phone with the company, trying to troubleshoot. A temporary staff worker Wetor had assigned to operate the cutter ran it for three weeks before their hours were used up, he said.

Wetor originally factored getting through the estimated 20,000-tire pile by December, but said the department has only been able to fill one-third of a shipping container. Wetor estimates — a rough estimate, because no one has seen the bottom of the pile in decades, and there are larger tires the cutter can’t chop — that Wrangell has enough tires to fill six of the 40-foot-long open-top shipping containers.

Regardless of the progress they make, the cutter will have to leave Wrangell in February, on to Petersburg, the next community in the network sharing the cutter, which consists of Petersburg, Thorne Bay, Craig, Klawock, Kasaan, Coffman Cove and Hydaburg.

It could be one to two years before Wrangell gets the cutter again. “I’m hopeful we can get someone before we lose this thing,” Wetor said.

The two part-time, temporary positions require outdoor work in all weather conditions, and the ability to move tires and rims that weigh up to 100 pounds for eight-hours shifts, according to the job posting.

“Part of the problem is, we’re going into winter,” Wetor said. “If you could make the same amount of money inside, why wouldn’t you?”


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