The Ketchikan Gateway Borough will look into how it can transfer state grant funds back to the state, in hopes of expediting the Alaska Marine Highway System’s planned Ward Cove moorage facility project.
Last June, the borough received about $7.5 million from the Alaska Department of Commerce for a conceptual design and cost estimate for the project. The grant funds have been accepted, but not yet spent.
Capt. John Falvey, who runs the Marine Highway System, asked the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly Monday to transfer that money to his department. He says he is eager to get the project going.
“We’re partners here. It’s my project; I deliver projects. If I have access to that $7.5 million, it’s my project now and I will deliver,” he said. “Our goal is to complete functional replacement phase 2 — that’s what I set out to do; that’s what I’m gonna do — and build a first-class marine facility, both on the uplands and on the wetlands, for the marine highway and very hopefully NOAA, so we can get Fairweather here.”
The Assembly later talked about how to transfer the money. Assembly Member Glenn Thompson said that such a transfer might take too long, and could further delay the project.
Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst said that shouldn’t be a problem and Commerce Department officials have indicated they won’t object to the transfer. But the borough will have to draft a careful agreement first.
“Absent a reappropriation, the borough still has a contractual relationship with the Department of Commerce,” he said. “We must perform, so we’ve got to have an agreement with DOT where DOT would, when they expend the money, have to indemnify us for their actions so that if there’s something done that’s not in accord, it would not be us not us on the hook.”
If built, the $30 million moorage facility would be used for maintenance and layup of state ferries, and for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration survey ship Fairweather.
Under federal mandate, Ketchikan is the home port of the Fairweather. But Ketchikan doesn’t have suitable moorage for such a vessel, so the community loses out on hosting the crew of 48 for six months each year. The Fairweather instead spends winters in Oregon, where it undergoes repairs while the crew trains and prepares for the next season.
Also Monday, the Assembly heard the regular economic development report from John Harrington, who works with the Planning Commission. He discussed ways the borough could support the emerging mariculture industry, including support of a proposed sea-otter bounty.
State Sen. Bert Stedman has introduced a bill that would establish a bounty for legally harvested otters. Otters eat shellfish and sea urchins, and have been blamed for a decline in shellfish numbers.
“Sea otters were introduced into Southeast Alaska. Since that event, the sea otters have acted like an invasive species, altering the ecosystem in some very damaging ways,” he said. “But they’re protected. Alaska Natives may hunt them, if they make something from the hide. This bounty would improve the profit motive for hunters. They would still need to follow the federal regulations, but the bounty should act as a stimulus for the development of a vibrant sea otter handicraft industry, and I hope you will consider a resolution in support of that bill.”
Federal agency representatives have said that such a bounty likely would not be allowed under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.