The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly on Monday unanimously accepted nearly $18 million in state grants for two projects. A little more than half will go to airport operations and improvements. The rest will start development of a new state moorage facility at Ward Cove.

Much of Monday’s discussion, however, focused on an issue that wasn’t on the agenda: Improvements to athletic fields, specifically Dudley Field next to Ketchikan High School.

During public comment, Wayne Weihing expressed concern about the state of the field, particularly its lack of accessibility for people with disabilities. He also asked about funds the borough had appropriated for field work.

Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst responded that improvements have been made at Dudley Field. But he said other work will be expensive. He said the funds were set aside in hopes of using the money as a local match for a lucrative state grant program.

“The Assembly thought it would be worthwhile, instead of spending 100 percent local funds on upwards of $1.2 million in improvements to the fields, that it could get for every dollar of local funds, $2 and 35 cents in state money,” he said.

Bockhorst said the recreation plan will address whatever is needed to improve accessibility.

“I am unaware of any dangerous circumstance, I have discussed that with Parks and Recreation and Public Works,” he said. “I am unaware of any violations of ADA requirements.”

Borough Public Works Director Ed Schofield said that, despite some problems, technically, the field is accessible. He said borough staff inspected Dudley with a resident who uses a wheelchair, to find out what is needed.

“You can’t get from one end of the field to the other, but there is access if you go around the block and come in on another level,” he said. “But you can’t get from that level to the other one, and it’s not a cheap and simple fix.”

Schofield said crews fixed some of the issues, such as marked ADA seating, and an ADA-accessible restroom. He says ADA parking hasn’t been designated because they need dry weather to paint.

Assembly Member Mike Painter said he’d like to see at least the little things fixed at the field soon, rather than wait for a state grant.

“I think our ballfields have been neglected,” he said. “I think this is taking way too long. Some of these things are minor expenses that could have been taken care of.”

Painter said borough staff has focused on new projects such as the Fawn Mountain field and the aquatic center, at the expense of the old fields. He said that when Ketchikan hosts visiting teams, the poor condition of the fields becomes apparent.

“I gotta tell you, it’s kind of embarrassing,” Painter said.

For information about the field-improvement process, visit the borough’s website at, and go to the Public Works Department link.

Also on Monday, the Assembly extended the deadline for a couple of projects funded through the borough’s share of the state cruise passenger head tax. One is a totem pole restoration in Saxman.

That community’s development coordinator Jason Custer said the extension will allow Donnie Varnell to finish carving the house poles. Custer said that Varnell’s presence at the Saxman carving shed is a boon to the community and to visiting tourists.

“He’s helping to train and guide other carvers, he has a positive impact on young and aspiring carvers, tourists and visitors to the carving center view his work, ask him questions and learn about Alaska Native culture and carving, he always makes sure to take time to share what he’s working on and answer his questions,” Custer said. “In fact, he’s become a visitor attraction in Saxman himself. The benefits of Donnie being there are so great that in a way, we wish this project would never end so that he could stay there, but don’t worry, we’re also very eager to see recarved totem poles completed.”

A ceremony to raise two raven entrance poles in Saxman is scheduled for July 7. Custer says the extension means Varnell can carve an additional three poles for the restoration project.