A prioritized list of community funding requests made it through a vote Tuesday by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly, but might stall on Thursday when it goes in front of the Ketchikan City Council.
There was discussion Tuesday of concerns brought forward by City Manager Karl Amylon, who has recommended that the City Council reject the prioritized list when that body meets on Thursday.
The list must be ratified by the city, borough and City of Saxman before it can move forward. Once finalized, it will be used to request funding from the state for community projects.
Despite a possible veto by the city, the Assembly on Tuesday unanimously approved the list as it was drafted last week by the legislative liaison committee. That ad hoc committee includes representatives from the two cities and the borough government.
Assembly Member Agnes Moran said the list was a collaborative effort, and should be honored.
“I’m in support of keeping the list as it is, pretty much,” she said. “There was a lot of work that went on prior to this. I think that since all the three parties sat down and agreed on it, I think it’s probably a good idea to keep things as they decided.”
The legislative committee placed a $20 million request to help remodel the Ketchikan Medical Center at the top of the list, followed by a $1 million request to continue planning and design work for the Mahoney Lake hydroelectric project, and then a $1.8 million request to help remodel the downtown Fireside Building into a performing arts center. Those three items represent the No. 1 request of each government entity.
Other requests on the committee’s recommended list, in order, are $12.7 million for city bridge repairs; $4 million for borough road construction and repairs; $550,000 for the Saxman Community Center parking lot; and $11 million for continued improvements at the Ketchikan Shipyard.
In a memo to the City Council, Amylon said he is concerned that Mahoney Lake and the performing arts center were placed above city bridge repairs. He said that project has been on the city’s list for four years, and the other two projects are new.
Amylon writes that not enough information is available about Mahoney, including the cost to develop and construct a dam there, and the feasibility of the project.
Amylon also said the Ketchikan Shipyard should not be last on the list. He said it, too, should be ranked before Mahoney and the performing arts center.
Jason Custer, the Mahoney Lake Partnership chairman, spoke in favor of keeping Mahoney as the second priority.
“Amylon stresses the importance of developing power sales agreements in advance of construction of new hydro projects, and as stated before, this scope of work would complete preconstruction tasks which would provide information essential to developing a power sales agreement,” he said. “It would firm up the construction costs, plus our cost of power, figures that impact the bottom line in these types of business arrangements.”
Mahoney is a public-private partnership between the City of Saxman, Cape Fox Corporation and Alaska Power and Telephone. As envisioned, it would result in a 9.6 megawatt lake tap. The most recent estimate gives an overall project cost of $46 million.
Leona Haffner, Saxman city clerk, expressed concern about Amylon’s protest. She said the committee met in good faith and considered the needs of all three entities before choosing a list to benefit the community as a whole. She said she’s “disgruntled” that Amylon’s memo wasn’t distributed to the committee members.
“To me, this is something that should have went automatically out to the lobbying executive committee,” she said. “It affects all of us.”
Assembly Member Bill Rotecki said he’s not necessarily in favor of fully funding the Mahoney Lake project, but he wants planning to continue. He said that will provide answers needed before more decisions can be made.
“I know the city has reluctance because of the competition between Whitman Lake, but I don’t see this as competing with that,” he said. “That’s why I was supportive of including the Mahoney Lake project despite the somewhat contentious nature of it.”
Keith Smith spoke during public comment in favor of maintaining the performing arts center’s ranking on the list. He said some have expressed concern about using state funds for a nonprofit project.
“I just wanted to reference very many within this community itself successful government-nonprofit partnerships involving the hospital, the visitors bureau, last year’s state funding for Community Connections facilities, one after another, they exist and are oftentimes successful,” he said.
While the prioritized list passed unanimously, Assembly Member Glen Thompson said he understood Amylon’s arguments. Thompson said he’s interested to see what the Ketchikan City Council does when it meets on Thursday to discuss the issue.