Borough Mayor David Landis told the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly that he got a call from state Department of Transportation Commissioner Marc Luiken’s office, saying that the commissioner was going to be in town Thursday, and wants to meet with Landis, “and it was regarding Gravina Access. Of course, those are two words that are very interesting to me. I’m sure they are to you, too.”
Landis says he and Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst called around to see what they could find out in advance of the meeting, and learned that City Mayor Lew Williams III also had received a similar request, and had scheduled a meeting.
“We actually sniffed out a little more with our lobbyist, and our representative and senator, talked to all of them,” he said. “There may be some type of announcement on Thursday.”
Landis says the substance of that announcement is yet unknown.
Gravina Access has been a sore point in Ketchikan for many years, with elected
officials pushing for a bridge to connect the main community on Revilla Island with the airport on nearby Gravina Island. There also is private property on that island that officials say can’t be developed economically with the current limited ferry access.
There were plans for a bridge, and more than $300 million in federal money was earmarked for that plan. However, in 2007, then-Gov. Sarah Palin put a stop to it following a national backlash against earmarks, and most of the funds were reallocated to other transportation projects in the state.
While most local public officials still would prefer a bridge, they realized that the likelihood of obtaining the funds to pay for one is low. Therefore, the Borough Assembly and the Ketchikan City Council in 2013 each endorsed an option floated by the state to instead improve ferry service to Gravina.
Since then, the community has been waiting for a final decision from state officials. Thursday may end that wait. However, Landis notes, during this current fiscal crisis for the state, brought on by low oil revenue, the $96 million left in the Gravina Access project account might prove tempting.
“Of course, there’s the threat of re-appropriation to other projects, other parts of the state, so we’re mindful of that, as well,” he told the Assembly. “Although, we don’t think this is a point of negotiation, we want to accurately communicate what the actions of this body in the past have been and what the feelings have been. So, that’s Thursday morning.”
The ferry option endorsed by local officials calls for new ferry ramps and improved terminal facilities.
Also Tuesday, the Assembly unanimously agreed to introduce an ordinance that would require South Tongass Service Area homes within 300 feet of the right-of-way to connect to the South Tongass water system upon sale of the property.
Some on the Assembly oppose the measure in principle, but wanted to move it forward in order to allow a public hearing. That will take place during the next Assembly meeting, set for Nov. 2.