Local News

Council OKs water-rate hike, SEAPA study

City water rates will go up across the board following a Ketchikan City Council vote Thursday, and the city will join other Southeast Alaska Power Agency members to fund an analysis of that agency.

Everyone who uses city water will pay 5 percent more, in part because fish processing plant representatives told the City Council that it’s too late in the season for them to adjust their budgets and business plans.

A rate study that the city commissioned a while ago shows that, based on the amount of water used, fish processors pay less than residents.

Sam Bergeron was the only Council member to vote against the across-the-board increase. He favored options that would have raised rates higher for processing plants.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that the residential ratepayers have been subsidizing the commercial ratepayers, because they’re paying more per than the commercial guys are,” he said. “We’ve had this discussion before: ‘By golly, we’re going to do something about it next time.’ Well, it’s next time.”

Council Member DeAnn Karlson agreed that it’s unfair to residents, but said it’s also unfair to change the rules without warning.

“Something like that would have to be done incrementally,” she said. “Anyone would need a chance to reconfigure business plans and processes and whatnot. Maybe there’s ways to conserve water usage that they hadn’t looked into before. You’re looking at a pretty large change in how you’re going to be billing one sector of our community, and I think it should be done in a fair and equitable manner and not just overnight.”

City Manager Karl Amylon said he will bring back a plan to phase in increased rates for fish processing plants.

In a split vote, the Council approved a memorandum of understanding between Ketchikan, Petersburg and Wrangell to move forward with an independent analysis of the Southeast Alaska Power Agency.

Council Member Dick Coose wanted to defer the vote, but his motion for delay failed 3-4. The vote in favor of the MOU passed 4-3 along the same lines, with Coose, Bob Sivertsen and Marty West on the dissenting side each time.

West said she was concerned about the potential cost of the study, which is unknown, while Coose and Sivertsen argued that SEAPA was performing well and didn’t need to be analyzed.

Bergeron said the study will be an independent review, and not an attack on the agency.

“The economic engine of our region is power and we’re running out of power,” he said. “We need to know the best entity is going forward and how we’re going to get there. Is it with SEAPA or is it on our own? A study is going to help us find that out.”

Coose said that the study is a direct attempt, initiated by Wrangell, to dissolve SEAPA. Petersburg has not yet taken action on the issue.

City Manager Karl Amylon favors the study. He recommended that Ketchikan form an ad hoc committee to move the project forward, similar to one formed in Wrangell.

The next Ketchikan City Council meeting is April 18.

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