Borough smart to think long-term

Sometimes, governments just have to take a chance. They need to ensure the pieces are in place for economic development of their community, even if that means spending money on the potential — not a guarantee — of building jobs in the future.

In Wrangell’s case, the almost 40-acre waterfront industrial property at the former 6-Mile sawmill site is one of those pieces.

The borough assembly decision to buy the property is smart, long-term thinking. It’s about preserving the site intact for possible future use, rather than see it subdivided and sold off in chunks, which would limit the options for future development.

Industrial waterfront land is in short supply throughout Southeast. Keeping the property intact and working with potential developers could help entice a new enterprise to set up shop in Wrangell, something the community clearly needs to boost its economy, attract families to town and add to our declining school enrollment.

The decision is a $2.5 million bet by the borough. Sometimes, towns need to take such chances to have a better future.

Wrangell cannot live on state and federal funding, uncertain salmon returns, tourism and health care spending alone. State and federal dollars fluctuate with oil prices and politics. Tourism is seasonal. The loss of Alaska Crossings hurts, too. Wrangell needs to take a chance on itself, and buying the former sawmill property is a good idea with potential to become a really great idea.

It will take time to encourage and work with potential developers for the property, and the borough needs to be careful and realistic in what may or may not be economically viable. Dreams of private investment and jobs have long steered Alaska communities to embrace ill-conceived projects.

If nothing comes from it, the borough later can subdivide the land and sell it off in pieces, recovering most or all of its money. Until then, it’s time to nail up the “For Sale, Lease or Development” sign. And it’s time to be patient, much like going after king salmon. One big strike makes the wait worthwhile.

-- Wrangell Sentinel


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